Consulate avoids 20-year Medicaid ban; but long road remains ahead

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The Consulate Health Care nursing home chain has avoided an unprecedented 20-year Medicaid ban for one of its Florida facilities, a rare “win” for it with regulators lately. But the provider still has a long road ahead.

The facility in question is the Oakbridge Health Care Center, a 120-bed skilled nursing home in Lakeland, FL. State and federal regulators cut off the Medicare and Medicaid payment spigot to the facility this past winter, amid numerous alleged safety issues. Among them: a night shift nurse who was tasked with caring for 50 patients at once, another patient who was transported to the wrong family, and one wife who was forced to call 911 when caregivers at the facility failed to help with her unresponsive husband.

Officials terminated Oakbridge's Medicare contract Dec. 8, ordered it to transfer patients to other facilities, and then issued a 20-year state Medicaid ban just a few days later.

But after hearings before an administrative law judge, behind-the scenes series of filings between attorneys and telephone conference in April, Florida dropped the ban. A Feb. 16 settlement agreement with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that did not include a 20-year ban from Medicare apparently helped ease some tension with the state.

Oakbridge has paid more than $121,000 in penalties to federal regulators, the Ledger newspaper reported. Now, the operators must prove to both the feds and the state that it can meet standards and can be reinstated as a receiver of both government payment programs.

Consulate is the largest nursing home operator in Florida, and recently has been in the news frequently. Most recently, one newspaper report found that a web of related companies allegedly make Consulate-owned nursing homes appear 'cash-strapped.' And in May, Whistleblower Angela Ruckh said she planned to appeal an overturned $350 million False Claims verdict that likely cost her upward of $50 million.