'King of Nursing Homes' convicted in hospital kickback scheme

An Illinois doctor known as the “King of Nursing Homes” for referring large numbers of elderly patients to Chicago's Sacred Heart Hospital was convicted of fraud on Friday.

Venkateswara Kuchipudi, M.D., was convicted on one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, and nine counts of illegally soliciting or receiving benefits in return for referrals. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

Kuchipudi would refer elderly patients, often nursing home residents, to Sacred Heart even if they lived closer to a hospital that provided better care, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Illinois. Many of the patients had dementia but no real reason to be admitted to the hospital and were held overnight, allowing Kuchipudi to bill Medicare at a higher rate, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Sacred Heart also provided Kuchipudi with free labor from physician assistants and nurse practitioners within the hospitals and the nursing homes where his patients resided. Kuchipudi then billed Medicare and Medicaid for those workers' services as if he employed them himself, authorities said.