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• Florida Sen. Alberto Gutman, who was charged last summer for allegedly filing $845,000 in false Medicare claims through two home healthcare agencies, is now being charged with witness tampering. He allegedly tampered with an unnamed witness who appeared before the grand jury, which was hearing evidence about his alleged role in a $15 million fraud scheme, reported the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
• Sunbelt Home Health Care of Sarasota, FL, is consolidating two of its offices. It closed its Beneva Road office and moved it to the Lockwood Ridge Road office on Saturday. The company spokesman said the lease on Beneva Road had expired and the landlord refused to make repairs. The move should not change any staff or services, the spokesman said. Sunbelt is part of Adventist Health System.
• Three investigators who check on complaints of nurse aides have a backlog of 800 cases in Arizona, reported the Arizona Daily Star. Part of the problem may be that until Jan. 1, home health agencies, nursing homes, and other businesses that use nurse aides were not required to systematically check for criminal records before hiring them. The health department’s new fingerprinting requirement of new aides has been instituted, but it does not affect a company’s veteran aides. Aides in home health and assisted living were required to be fingerprinted as of August 1998, the Star reported.
• The U.S. Attorney’s office filed a civil lawsuit to recover Medicare money overpaid to a Chelmsford, MA, home healthcare agency. The office wants to recover $1 million received by American Health Care Enterprises, which was in operation from 1991 to 1997, when the agency was sold. The agency is now known as Bridle Path Enterprises. The lawsuit alleges that Bridle Path, its president, Dawn Luedecke, and its treasurer, Gregory Jones, owes about $65,000 on an overpayment and an additional $971,000 because it never filed a cost report justifying the Medicare payments received in 1997. The company has already repaid about $235,000, but stopped making the payments when it was sold.
• Doctors Medical Center is closing its Tenet Home Care agency, which had been in operation in Modesto, CA, since 1989. The agency employs 44 nurses and staff. Interim Health Care has agreed to take Tenet’s patients and some of the staff, reported the Modesto Bee. The agency will close May 31 due to changes in federal regulations and reimbursements, a hospital spokeswoman told the Bee.
• California has no policies or programs helping families keep their loved ones at home, say home healthcare advocates. In response, the Family Caregiver Alliance in California released nine recommendations to the state Department of Mental Health that range from recognizing the role of family caregivers to offering financial incentives for caring for family members at home, reported the Sacramento Bee. The state could benefit from more home healthcare, said Rand Martin, chief of staff for Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), who heads the Aging and Long Term Care Subcommittee. Without it, "the state and federal government will end up paying incredible amounts of money to care for these people in nursing facilities," he said. About 200 home healthcare agencies in California have gone out of business since the enactment of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act.
• Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has introduced a bill that would authorize the Department of Veterans Affairs to sign contracts to provide home healthcare for veterans. The assistance is already available for veterans in nursing homes or hospitals, but not for spouses and adult children who care for veterans at home. The department spends about $1.7 billion a year on nursing home care, Smith said.
• Pennsylvania’s rural healthcare leaders convened in Washington earlier this month to air their concerns to Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees Medicare. Thomas and Rep. John Peterson (R-PA) are working to create a more fair Medicare payment system for rural hospitals. The inequities were caused by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which drastically reduced Medicare payments in an effort to stamp out fraud. This caused many rural hospitals to stop offering home healthcare. Thomas suggests that home healthcare should eventually be part of a person’s long term health plan.
• John Knox Village Home Health Agency (Lee’s Summit, MO) has acquired Barr Home Health Agency, boosting its annual revenue by two-thirds. "Barr was a great match for us because they covered geographically those areas of Kansas City that John Knox Village did not cover," John Knox Vice President Dan Rexroth told the Kansas City Star. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
• The amount of money spent on patients in a Wisconsin home care program varies widely from county to county, according to an audit released last week, reported the Associated Press. And Rep. Carol Kelso (R-Green Bay, WI) said that could mean some people are getting shortchanged in care. The audit shoes a big variance in cost per participant, she said. The report by the Legislative Audit Bureau said that a proposal by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson could eliminate inconsistencies among the counties, but problems such as shortage of service providers for overnight and personal care could continue. Statewide, counties spent an average of $7,701 per patient on the Community Options Program in 1997, the audit bureau said. The audit concluded that more than 11,000 people were on waiting lists to receive services as of June 1998.