Regional Digest

• A mother and her son who worked as home health aides in Troy, NY, for an 87-year-old woman are accused of stealing more than $50,000 from the woman, now deceased. The aides allegedly drained the woman’s bank accounts, stocks, and other assets between 1995 and 1996, reported the Associated Press. They were arraigned March 2 on second- and third-degree grand larceny charges.

• Six people were indicted earlier this month in a $1 million healthcare Medicare fraud case, involving an employee of Staff Builders’ (Lake Success, NY) Port St. Lucie, FL, branch. Federal agents say a businessman created fake invoices in exchange for Medicare reimbursements. He failed to disclose $400,000 in kickbacks he got from an office supply company, then set up a dummy corporation to feed false purchase invoices, reported the Associated Press. He also allegedly took part in schemes to pay employee salaries at doctors’ offices in order to be reimbursed by Medicare, even though the employees worked for doctors who performed no Medicare work processed through Staff Builders. Those doctors were charged with receiving kickbacks.

• A home health program for seniors in central New Jersey has become a popular resource offered by Friends Life Care at Home of New Jersey (Somerset, NJ). Friends Life will offer free informational seminars in April on the program and its merits to let seniors 60 years of age and older know that they can participate. The plan has entry fees of $6,000 or more depending on age, plus an ongoing monthly charge of $296.

• Speak slowly with a low tone. Print sales brochures on yellow paper with large type. Ask them to take notes. These are just a few tips for home health workers when explaining different services and financial plans to elderly clients, according to a three-day workshop by the Society of Senior Advisors (Denver) offered earlier this month. The workshop covered law, housing, taxation, insurance, demographics, spirituality, psychology, and healthcare from a business and medical point of view, reported The Palm Beach (FL) Post. Misperceptions are often based on diminished abilities to hear, see, and remember, the article said.

• Registered nurses from the eastern counties branch of the Victorian Order of Nurses, ONA Local 42 (Cornwall, ON) have reached a settlement with their employer, avoiding many of the concessions the employer originally sought, reported the Canada NewsWire. Details of the agreement were not made public. "If we had allowed our employer to literally gut our collective agreement, our working conditions would have been so deplorable that our ability to provide safe, quality patient care would have been jeopardized," said Local 42 spokesperson Jaye Sullivan-Daley. "As patient advocates, we refused to contribute to a lowering of standards for home care, which would have hurt the most vulnerable members of our society . . . "

Fitch IBCA (New York) assigned an "A" long-term rating to $250 million in Aurora Health Care bonds. It rated the company’s Wisconsin Health and Educational Facilities Authority’s $150 million revenue bonds, series 1999A, and $50 million variable rate demand bonds, series 1999B and 1999C. The company includes 13 hospitals, four long term care facilities, 78 physician clinic facilities, 74 pharmacies, and a home health organization.

• The Arizona Auditor General is criticizing the state’s regulation of home healthcare providers, saying the lax system allows for public complaints to go unchecked. The auditor issued a report last week that said the Department of Health Services renewed 43 home health agency licenses without making sure providers were in compliance, and it failed to fine providers for repeated violations. It also showed the department was overdue in conducting 70 home health agency Medicare inspections in August. A department spokesman, Brad Christensen, told the Associated Press that the problems have been corrected and that they were a result of not enough resources to do the job. The department is responsible for inspecting 140 home healthcare businesses.

• The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration has fined Granny Nannies (Altamonte Springs, FL), a company that provides certified nursing assistants, home health aides, and companion sitters, for operating without a valid nurse registry license and for filing an incomplete license application, reported the Orlando Sentinel. Granny Nannies had applied to open a large office in Leesburg, in addition to its Altamonte Springs office. An attorney for the company said the fine stems from a dispute with a disgruntled agency employee. The company does have a valid license to operate in six Florida counties, the attorney told the newspaper.

Odyssey Health Care (Dallas) allegedly reported to Medicare and Social Security the death of an 82-year-old Indianapolis woman, who was still living, to get her back for refusing to buy the company’s home health services. The company’s action suspended the woman’s benefits. The woman learned of the problem when her oxygen supplier told her the government would no longer pay her $500-a-month oxygen bill because she was dead, reported The Indianapolis Star. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) has called for a federal investigation of the hospice care company. Odyssey Vice President of Clinical Affairs Pat Skogen said the company is disturbed by the charge and is doing a thorough investigation. The problem could have been caused by a data entry error, she said. The company’s report of Martha Lawler’s death came in April 1998, the same day Lawler and her daughter turned down a high-pressure sales campaign, the Star reported. Lawler died of emphysema last month.

• Three congressmen have asked for a delay in 15% home healthcare payment cuts proposed for some Medicare beneficiaries. Reps. Jim Ryun (R-KY), Robert Weygand (D-RI), and Ernie Fletcher (R-KY) want to add an amendment to the FY2000 budget resolution to delay the cuts. "Rural home healthcare is facing a crisis," Ryun said. "Kansas cannot afford to lose any more home health providers." About 40 in the state have closed down this year, reported the Associated Press.

• In Ontario, Canada, government officials have announced $45 million in new annual funding to support additional community care nurses. The investment will mean that more people can receive nursing services at home through Ontario’s Community Care Access Centres. It includes $27 million to be spent annually for expanded in-home nursing services and $18 million to be spent on homemaking, personal care, and therapy services.

Summit Home Health Care (Colorado Springs, CO) has cut the hours, pay, and benefits of its staff, hoping to catch up with bills, but a core group of employees have chosen to remain with the company anyway. Owner Cecile Alderman is trying to keep the company alive through the changes in Medicare reimbursement. She works 80 hours a week and hasn’t given herself a paycheck since October, reported The Gazette in Colorado Springs. Some employees are cleaning the office because Alderman can’t afford a janitor and working evenings and weekends to make home health visits. Alderman knew the Medicare changes were coming, but Summit Home Health spent five months going about business as usual because Alderman thought Congress was bluffing about the Medicare changes.