A healthcare company with nursing homes in Cobb County and Buckhead has agreed to a $30 million settlement after two former employees in Tennessee reported widespread Medicare fraud three years ago.
Prosecutors announced the settlement June 8 and said that Signature HealthCARE falsely claimed it was giving rehabilitation therapy to patients and filing federal claims.
Kentucky-based Signature has more than 100 nursing homes across the country.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rates nursing homes on a number of factors: The 138-bed Tower Road facility currently has two stars; the 154-bed location on Kennesaw Avenue earned the highest score of five stars; the Buckhead location on Peachtree Park Drive sits at the lowest score of one star, designated as "much below average."
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Federal prosecutors filed the lawsuit in 2015 on the word of the two former therapists who worked at a 181-bed facility.
“Signature assigned therapists to work with patients who did not need therapy, or who needed far less therapy than was being provided, for the sole purpose of bumping that patient into a higher category of per diem reimbursement,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit continued.
“At the same time, Signature strictly limited the amount of time that therapists could spend with patients who genuinely needed therapy once providing therapy to that patient ceased to be profitable for Signature.”
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The settlement paperwork says the scheme started in 2011, which included the forging of physician signatures to input claims.
When asked for comment, Signature CEO Joe Steier said in part: “This settlement allows us to move forward in serving our residents and families with quality health care and a commitment to compassion. We worked with the government over the past year to get us here. Resident care remains our first priority, and therapy services are and remain an important part of that care.”
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The two former Signature employees who sued will receive a portion of the payout.
“Our most vulnerable citizens are put at risk when healthcare providers put their financial interests above their patients’ needs and valuable federal funds are diverted from where they are surely needed,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak in a news release.
SunDance Rehabilitation Corp. ran a similar ruse in Johns Creek and agreed to pay $5.3 million in 2017.
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Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com