Regional Digest

• Ontario will receive a funding increase of $18.1 million for long term care community service agencies, including home care agencies. The money will allow agencies to expand programs such as Meals on Wheels, home visits, transportation, adult day programs, and attendant services, reported the Canada NewsWire.

• Three Florida men were found guilty for submitting $10 million in fraudulent Medicare bills through Amitan, a Miami home healthcare agency. Rene Corvo was one of Amitan’s two owners who allegedly orchestrated the fraud. His financial advisor, Jorge Salas, and Antonio Abigantus, were among 34 defendants charged in the case. They all face three to six years in prison and will be sentenced in June. Corvo’s partner, Ramon Dominguez, pleaded guilty in a related case and was sentenced in January to six years in prison. Amitan is no longer in business. The company created false medical records that were signed by nurses and doctors making them look legitimate, reported the Associated Press.

• A Hartford, CT, woman faces losing her home health services because she earns $2.18 over the $1,500 monthly limit. A small windfall from a class action pension settlement increased her income. Without home healthcare a couple hours each day, the 90-year-old woman would be forced to enter a nursing home. The woman urged state lawmakers to pass a law to remedy the situation, reported the Associated Press. The bill would allow people to reject additional income that puts them over the monthly limit so they can remain eligible for the federally funded home healthcare.

• Utah has lost about half of its home healthcare agencies because of the changes in Medicare reimbursements, reported the Salt Lake Tribune. The state once had 112 agencies, and now has about 55. A spokesman with the Utah Department of Health said the drop "is amazing to us. We’re hoping there’s adequate agencies left out there to meet the consumers’ needs."

• Twenty-four home health nurses of Doctor’s Choice Home Care (Indianapolis) – a company bought out by Winona (IN) Health Care Services – are suing the agency’s previous owner for wages totaling more than $21,000. The employees have not been paid for two weeks in January even though Medicare was billed for their services, the Indianapolis Star reported. The employees are seeking back wages, penalties, attorneys’ fees and an injunction preventing anymore Medicare payments to go to the former owner. If they win, they would be entitled to three times the actual damages – about $64,791.

The Visiting Nurse Association of Harrisburg in Pennsylvania has moved from its Washington Street address to 3315 Derry St. in Harrisburg. The phone numbers and fax numbers will remain the same.

• Hospital and home health nurses in Anchorage, AL, are threatening to strike if Providence Alaska Medical Center does not boost wages by 25% over the next three-year contract. Providence is offering to give a 10% raise over the contract. The hospital said the nurses’ average hourly wage of about $24 is already among the highest in the nation, reported the Anchorage Daily News. The nurses unionized five years ago, but have never worked under contract.

• Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge has proposed changes to the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that would give insurance coverage for services not currently covered, such as home healthcare. The proposal hinges on approval of $20 million in additional funds in the 1999 budget. The change could take affect in July. More than 74,000 children are enrolled in CHIP, reported the Associated Press.

• Friends Life Care at Home (Blue Bell, PA) is expanding into the Lehigh Valley this Spring, Friends Life President Carol Barbour said last week. The program, launched in 1990, has now enrolled nearly 1,200 members, mostly in the greater Philadelphia area, she said. Last year, it expanded into Delaware and this year, into central New Jersey.