Elder abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins report that a former nursing home administrator was recently arrested and jailed for allegedly stealing more than $100,000 from her elderly residents.
The woman, Pamela Britt of Champaign, Illinois, was arrested in mid-June 2013 on 12 felony counts of theft, theft by deception and forgery, and financial exploitation of an elderly person. The charges stem from her time at the over 100-bed Heartland Health Care Center, where she was employed as an administrator between 2007 and 2011.
Nearly 20 residents were victimized by Britt, who took advantage of fraudulent bookkeeping of residents’ accounts and bank statements. Britt was allegedly making false entries in the nursing home’s records and physically writing checks to herself from residents’ check books. Some residents require nursing home employees to do some of their shopping or pay their bills for them, and approve facility administrators or other employees to be authorized signers on their accounts.
Knowing his, Britt forged the signatures of her residents, and in some cases, even of other employees who were authorized signers so the theft would not seem as suspicious. Around May 2011, Heartland Health announced it would be conducting an internal audit, and upon hearing this news, Britt suddenly left the care center. The internal audit was the ultimate catalyst in discovering the theft, which was immediately reported to the Medicaid Fraud Bureau. Her court date is scheduled for July 30, 2013 in southern Illinois. She faces up to 15 years in jail for her felony charges.
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Financial exploitation of seniors is not, unfortunately, all that uncommon (the National Institute of Justice estimates exploitation costs American seniors nearly $3 billion every year). As stated, nursing home staff is often given exclusive access to residents’ bank accounts for practical reasons, such as purchasing basic toiletries. Overworked and underpaid employees may see this as an open opportunity to steal small amounts of money at a time, hoping the resident would not notice. Seniors with cognitive issues, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, are particularly susceptible to these types of predators.
Other employees, such as one recently arrested in Michigan, steal painkillers and other pharmaceuticals from nursing home medicine cabinets. The nursing home supervisor from Howell was charged with stealing prescription painkillers from his hospice patients. The 32-year-old was working at Medilodge nursing home when he started stealing the narcotics. He is charged with larceny by stealing prescription medication and harmful neglect of a patient.
Nursing homes keep meticulous records of the medicines they prescribe and dole out, so the man had to dilute some of the residents’ medications for chronic pain after he stole them. In 2005, Michigan passed a bill that allowed nursing homes and other medical facilities to test their employees for drug content if they are suspected of being under the influence. The law requires long-term care facilities to inform employees of the new drug policies when they are hired.
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Some nursing home employees see financial exploitation opportunities in the form of kickbacks and federal fraud. One former nursing home administrator, Kelvin Washington, was recently convicted on ten counts of healthcare fraud, conspiracy, and violating anti-kickback statutes. Washington was receiving illegal payments for referring patients, many of whom were never residents of his facility, for unnecessary ambulance services.
Washington apparently conspired with managers at Americare Ambulance Service, so he would provide false ambulance transport prescriptions, which were approved by his facility’s physicians. Employees of Americare then billed Medicare and Medicaid more than $1 million for the services, many of which never occurred, which resulted in $450,000 in payments to the ambulance company. The ambulance company then paid Washington under the table, totaling about $22,000 over four years.
Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins urge anyone with a family member in a long-term care facility to be aware of the warning signs of financial exploitation. Among these include: lack of affordable comforts, signed property transfers (such as power of attorney or a will) without knowledge of its meaning, addition of names to the senior’s signature card, and unpaid bills or lack of medical care.