On March 3, 2020, Attorney General William Barr announced the National Nursing Home Initiative—a new U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) taskforce organized to push criminal and civil enforcement action against nursing homes across the country. The initiative will help coordinate DOJ enforcement actions against nursing homes that provide “grossly substandard care.”
The National Nursing Home Initiative has already begun investigating approximately 30 nursing facilities across nine states.
The DOJ emphasized it will target nursing homes that “consistently fail to provide adequate nursing staff to care for their residents, fail to adhere to basic protocols of hygiene and infection control, fail to provide their residents with enough food to eat so that they become emaciated and weak, withhold pain medication, or use physical or chemical restraints to restrain or otherwise sedate their residents.”
DOJ penalties can be severe. A Georgia nursing home operator was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2012 for health care fraud. The nursing home conditions were “appalling” and “horrendous” according to a Georgia state surveyor, where food shortages bordered on starvation, the facility was consistently understaffed, and insects infested the nursing home. Medicare and Medicaid fraud by nursing homes totaled almost $33 million over three years.
Healthcare fraud continues to be a primary concern of the DOJ. In 2019 alone, more than $2.6 billion in settlements and judgments were collected from health care providers and manufacturers, marking the 10th consecutive year that these collections have exceeded $2 billion. Attorney General Barr’s latest announcement makes clear this trend will continue in 2020 and beyond. According to Barr, the new National Nursing Home Initiative “will bring to justice those owners and operators who have profited at the expense of their residents, and help to ensure residents receive the care to which they are entitled.”