Regional Digest

• Albany, NY, healthcare workers are angry over Gov. George Pataki’s proposed Medicaid cuts. A $1 million advertisement accuses Pataki of trying to "decimate healthcare services" and "close down the government," reported the New York Daily News. Pataki proposes cutting $875 million in Medicaid fees paid to hospitals, nursing homes, and home healthcare programs, saying the state spends more than twice the national average on Medicaid. Passing of the state budget is more than two months late because of a deadlock that partly concerns Medicaid spending.

• Seniors campaigned at a rally in Dartmouth, MA, early this month to stop the implementation of a Medicare voucher program privatizing Social Security and increasing the age eligibility, reported the Providence Journal. Attendees urged U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) to take their message back to the Capitol. The critics said the voucher program would allow the government to decide how much health insurance to give each Medicare recipient, leaving seniors to pay the difference or resort to "bargain basement" HMOs. Some seniors are already battling problems with healthcare. A diabetic blind woman, for instance, had her home healthcare visits terminated by an HMO even though she could not administer her own insulin shots, reported the Journal. "The answer is, put the money back," Frank told the crowd. "This is not advanced mathematics. The Medicare crisis is a crisis of a very wealthy society that doesn’t want to help average people pay their bills. …There are plenty of places we can find the money. It’s a matter of will, not the resources."

• A. Ronald Turner, the president/COO of Health Group (Nashville, TN), which owned 24 hospitals and 37 nursing homes before it was sold in 1986, is now heading a new firm called Associated Healthcare Systems (Alpharetta, GA). His new firm is involved in a pediatric home health business in Mobile, AL, but for the most part, it plans on purchasing management contracts and hospitals from the southeast to Texas and improving their efficiency. It will do that by paring down unprofitable businesses, such as nursing home and home health operations, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Welch Home Health in Norwell, MA, will close by June 26, making it the 19th home health agency to shut down in the state since Medicare cutbacks began in October 1997. The South Shore Visiting Nurse Association is taking over care of Welch’s 100 clients. The closure will affect almost 80 full- and part-time employees, some of whom may work at Welch Healthcare’s other divisions. Others may be hired by South Shore VNA and assigned to the same patients, if possible.

• Four people have pleaded guilty to Medicare and Medicaid fraud involving $1.5 million. Curtis Churchill, his son Shane Churchill, and Tabitha Parks, all of West Des Moines, IA, and W. David Dickenson of Wichita Falls, TX, allegedly defrauded the two government programs by submitting phony invoices through Universal Home Health Care (West Des Moines, IA) and its consulting company, Consulting Resources Squared. The four were charged in January of wire fraud, healthcare fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to defraud the government. Curtis Churchill operates Universal, and the three others allegedly participated in the scheme. They will be sentenced on July 22 and Aug. 13.

• Two retired executives of Morgan County Home Health Agency in Ohio have been charged with submitting $25,000 in phony bills to Medicaid and Medicare. The women retired after more than 20 years each when the agency was disbanded in July 1998. They are accused of forging doctor’s signatures and ordering employees to alter documents in order to submit bills for services that were never rendered, reported the Columbus Dispatch.

• The Georgia Health Care Fraud Control Unit has won 83 convictions and recovered nearly $10.3 million for the state since its inception four years ago. The unit’s first big case involved Jeanette Garrison, owner of Healthmaster (Augusta, GA), who admitted to diverting Medicare funds into Democratic campaign contributions, reported the Florida Times-Union. Bobby Johnson pleaded guilty to overbilling Medicaid by claiming his nursing home chain had $27 million in payroll, when only $17 million went to pay nurses. Johnson invested $9.5 million into the defunct women’s American Basketball League.

Beckett Healthcare (Arlington, TX) has acquired Trinity Healthcare (Arlington, TX), giving the company branches in Tarrant, Dallas, and Denton counties. Beckett COO Joseph Cozza said the Tarrant acquisition will enable the company to "focus more upon the needs of the community," reported the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The company will operate under the Beckett name, and all 25 employees will remain.