Judge bangs his gavel

A co-owner of two Western Pennsylvania nursing homes and several of his former building leaders are on trial this week, defending themselves against extensive federal charges related to Medicaid and Medicare fraud.

Pennsylvania’s attorney general last year indicted Sam Halper, co-owner of Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness and Mt. Lebanon Rehabilitation and Wellness, on multiple counts. Authorities allege he masterminded a scheme in which staff intentionally inflated worker hours and falsified patient records in an effort to boost revenues and limit costs. 

Also indicted in the trial that started Tuesday are a former Brighton director of nursing, a former Mt. Lebanon administrator, two former corporate managers and Brighton’s former director of social services.

Opening arguments started Thursday, with one state official telling McKnight’s Long-Term Care News the trial could last weeks. Defense attorneys in their initial statements tried to frame the case as one of sloppy record keeping, rather than intentional fraud, TribLive reported.

US Attorney Cindy K. Chung and then-Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, now governor, accused Halper of directing managers at Brighton to keep staffing levels low to reduce costs, even though he and others knew that it led to poor health outcomes for residents.

At Mt. Lebanon, the scheme allegedly included having employees clock-in and be paid for shifts they did not work; keeping two sets of books reflecting staffing levels, with one containing accurate information and the other falsified records; and falsifying staffing documents for federally mandated inspections.

Years of fraud was alleged at both buildings. Brighton, with 589 beds, is one of the state’s largest nursing homes and was plagued by problems during the pandemic. The facility was hit with at least $62,000 in fines for infection control deficiencies, and the state later tapped a temporary manager to come in and clean up operations.

The 121-bed Mt. Lebanon facility also has had its share of problems, including a 2-star overall rating and an abuse citation noted on the Care Compare site.

Both facilities are managed by Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services, an entity affiliated with Ephram “Mordy” Lahasky. He has a 10% direct ownership stake in Brighton, while Halper has a 12% ownership stake.

Comprehensive recently won a court decision allowing it to sell seven of its facilities in western Pennsylvania. The Department of Justice had alleged that the company was attempting to sell off assets prior to this week’s trial as a way of avoiding a costly financial judgment.

The government argued that the potential sale didn’t “pass the smell test” because Lahasky also holds an ownership interest in Kadima Healthcare Group Inc., which was set to buy the properties in a $56 million deal. Lahasky has not been charged in the criminal case involving Brighton.

He does, however, face a civil lawsuit along with Halpert in New York, where the attorney general has alleged the owners of The Villages of Orleans Health and Rehabilitation Center, misused more than $18.6 million in government funds for personal gain.