Summer blockbusters, and some films you want no part of

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

With another huge movie weekend behind us, it's a good time for providers to exhale in relief. Or wonder anxiously if they have, in fact, been on camera themselves. Especially if Mike DeWine is the film's producer.

DeWine isn't the mastermind behind “Deliver Us From Evil,” though certain providers might think the Ohio Attorney General is a whole lot less than good. The feeling might be mutual.

DeWine recently announced grand jury indictments against Steven L. Hitchens and the senior care community he owns, Autumn Healthcare of Zanesville. The laundry list of 39 counts against Hitchens includes patterns of corrupt activity, Medicaid fraud, forgery, tampering with evidence and a variety of other alleged skullduggery. The incorporated facility itself faces 17 counts for many of the same issues.

This is worse than your typical “granny cam” scenario. DeWine's office first heard from residents' family members of alleged malfeasance and shoddy care at Autumn Healthcare back in 2012. Shortly thereafter, with the loved ones' approval, his office started placing secret cameras in residents' rooms.

On June 6, 2013, DeWine held a press conference and authorities announced they had started proceedings to strip the facility of its license. Hitchens fought back in court to stay open, and provider advocates worried aloud about “paranoia” that could spread among providers.

Fast forward a little more than a year, and a grand jury hands down criminal indictments against both the owner and the facility. Back in 2013, DeWine defended the use of secret cameras and said more would likely occur. It obviously did. Video evidence allegedly shows numerous instances of sub-standard or absent care.

Moreover, DeWine emphasized less than two weeks ago that “this is an ongoing grand jury and further indictments are certainly possible.” Not the type of starring role a provider might want.

Hitchens and other representatives for Autumn Healthcare have declined comment on the charges. The Attorney General's office would not elaborate more fully on the investigation due to its ongoing nature.

Both sides have made clear that is no mere playful imitation of “Candid Camera” or “Punk'd.” And providers are right to take serious notice.

It was “the first time, to my knowledge, that cameras were put in a nursing home for this purpose by the Attorney General,” DeWine acknowledged at a press conference at the end of June.

“When we get complaints, we will carry out investigations,” he continued. “The use of cameras is not only legal, but today is essential to be able to investigate these cases.”

Sounds like a man who has a hit show on his hands, and who would not be shy about trying to repeat the effort.

One has to wonder how many of his peers around the country have been watching and listening, and might be mulling doing the same.

While most providers should have no reason to fear secret law-enforcement cameras in their facilities, they can be allowed a bit of creeping anxiety. The slope could get slippery if the use of cameras were expanded for allegations that are less egregious than these nor not so easy to confirm. Privacy issues also could come into play.

If nothing else, this drama has re-emphasized the importance for providers to not only deliver good care but also create open, satisfying relationships with family members. Perhaps not the fodder of a blockbuster movie, but then again, not the fodder of a law enforcement blockbuster, either.

James M. Berklan is McKnight's Editor. Follow him @LTCEditorsDesk.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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