The FBI apprehended a man and his wife in Atlanta this month for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. The man, George Houser, owned three nursing homes which were all in disrepair and providing a substandard of living to the patients they served. While we would like to believe that this is an isolated incident, recent studies and data have all pointed to the fact that when nursing home facilities are owned by for-profit companies or held by a private owner who is seeking a profit, the needs of the patient will always be less important than the bottom line.
A New Precedent Set for Negligent Nursing Home Owners
George Houser was the first person ever to be federally convicted on the basis of submitting claims to Medicare and Medicaid for services that were defined as “worthless”. Throughout all three of his homes, the ceilings were falling apart, rainwater needed to be collected in garbage cans spread throughout the facilities, dirty laundry was piled up and the floors were filthy. Houser wrote bad paychecks to his employees, failed to pay for their insurance benefits after withholding premiums from their pay, defaulted on payment to food vendors and clinical laboratories and failed to pay for waste disposal or nursing supplies. His employers paid for food and supplies out of their own pockets because patients were starving to death and becoming gravely ill.
As conditions continued to deteriorate at his three nursing homes, Houser and his wife bought expensive homes and cars, took trips and invested in real estate with the money they collected from Medicare and Medicaid in return for their “services” rendered to their neglected patients. The three nursing homes were shut down and residents were moved to homes that would provide them proper care after Houser and his wife plead guilty to charges of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid. Houser’s case rests on the extreme end of the spectrum, but it begs the question of how many other facilities are being run to serve the needs of their owners and not the patients that they are supposed to care for.
Not-for-profit Homes Offer Better Care
Studies comparing nursing homes run by government funding or non-profit organizations to those that were run for a profit showed that the care provided was considerably better when the home was not seeking a profit. In order for any business to make money, it must control its costs and increase its margins. Unfortunately, the traditional business model harms nursing home patients by encouraging the owners of nursing homes to hire fewer workers and deny patients better care if it will cost the facility more money to do so.
When Will Patient Needs Become a Priority?
If the owner of a nursing home is unable to put the needs of his or her patients first, he or she has no business owning the nursing home. We can only hope that the case of George Houser and his wife will bring more attention to the matter and encourage lawmakers to hold nursing facilities more accountable by requiring that they have minimum staff requirements that meet the needs of the patients. While many businesses follow a code of ethics and strive to put their customers first, the only way to prevent abuse is to mandate a standard of service that will allow nursing home patients to live with dignity.
Hopefully cases like this one will remind all of us of the duty that we have to look out for our elderly and to hold those who take advantage of them accountable. Most of the victims of nursing home neglect are powerless to defend themselves so we need to step up and carry their banner, hoping that one day someone else would do the same for us.