Two embattled nursing homes were in court this week facing healthcare fraud charges in a case that might illustrate a potentially more fraught legal future for anyone caught trying to get around staffing requirements.
Authorities said Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center in Beaver County and Mt. Lebanon Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, both in Pennsylvania, have long been the target of investigators. The facilities are owned by Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services LLC.
US Attorney Cindy K. Chung and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the charges Tuesday against owner and CEO Sam Halper, 39, of Miami Beach, FL.; Brighton Director of Nursing Eva Hamilton, 35; Michelle Romeo, 46, who was a regional manager with oversight over nurses at the facilities; and Director of Social Services Johnna Haller, 41.
Susan Gilbert, Mt. Lebanon Rehab’s former administrator, was previously accused of conspiracy, healthcare fraud and obstruction of a federal audit.
This week’s extensive indictments also list charges of falsification of records related to healthcare matters and in a federal investigation, demonstrating how costly schemes like this could be in a harsher regulatory environment.
Brighton Rehab and Comprehensive Healthcare Management have been named as defendants in several lawsuits in both state and federal court, where they were accused of improperly handling their COVID-19 response, as well as negligence and mismanagement prior to the pandemic.
The indictment accuses Halper of directing management staff at Brighton Rehab to keep staffing levels low to reduce costs, even though he and others knew that it led to poor health outcomes for residents.
Other providers may find themselves facing similar temptations, given the White House’s push for a federal staffing minimum.
In Gilbert’s case, which is still pending, officials allege that from October 2018 through February 2020, Gilbert “and/or co-conspirators” directed facility employees to falsify records to give the appearance the provider met federal and state staffing requirements.
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.