Two Florida nursing homes and a hospital allowed a hospice company to provide free services in exchange for patient referrals, according to recently unsealed whistleblower charges.
Between 2004 and 2011, Hernando-Pasco Hospice provided free nursing care, social services, spiritual care and other services to residents of Zephyrhills Health & Rehab Center, Zephyr Haven Health & Rehab Center and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Hospital, the complaint contends. In exchange, the nursing homes and hospital allegedly would refer Medicare beneficiaries to Hernando-Pasco when they elected hospice care.
In addition, the hospice sometimes would take a “break in billing” and send a hospice patient back to the referring hospital or nursing home, which then would bill for care, the whistleblowers state. The complaint does not describe how the change in care setting was explained to hospice patients.
The two whistleblowers both were social workers and managers at Hernando-Pasco Hospice. They are seeking a jury trial and a share in any damages recovered on behalf of the United States and the state of Florida.
Federal authorities have declined to join the case, according to an Oct. 15 court filing from the U.S. Attorney’s office. However, federal officials requested that the court allow the relators to “maintain the action in the name of the United States” and asked the court to ask for written consent from the government before the case is dismissed or otherwise discontinued.
The state of Florida has not indicated whether it will intervene, Bloomberg BNA reported Tuesday.*
The allegations in the complaint are “vague,” according to a statement issued by Moffitt Cancer Center.
“The two former hospice employees filed a similar lawsuit in 2010 against many providers, including Moffitt, from which Moffitt was dismissed,” the statement reads. “Based on the limited information provided to date, Moffitt denies these allegations.”
Zephyrhills is a 103-bed facility and Zephyr Haven has 120 beds. Both are located in Zephyrhills and are not-for-profit. Neither facility had responded to a request for comment as of press time.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article referred to this news organization as the Bureau of National Affairs. It has not gone by this name since 2011.