Saturday, September 21, 2019

Nursing home mogul Philip Esformes sentenced to 20 years for $1.3 billion Medicaid fraud

Chicago Tribune reporter David Jackson explains how wealthy nursing home operator Philip Esformes allegedly became the orchestrator of a $1 billion Medicaid and Medicare bribery and kickback scheme. Oct. 4, 2016.
Former Illinois and Florida nursing home mogul Philip Esformes wept and pleaded for mercy Thursday before being sentenced to 20 years in prison for what the U.S. Justice Department called the largest single health care bribery and kickback scheme in American history.

A separate hearing will be held in November to determine the amount of money and property Esformes may be required to forfeit.

Esformes, who once controlled a network of more than two dozen health care facilities that stretched from Chicago to Miami, garnered $1.3 billion Medicaid revenues by bribing medical professionals who referred patients to his Florida facilities then paid off government regulators as vulnerable residents were injured by their peers, prosecutors said.

He housed elderly patients alongside younger adults who suffered from mental illness and drug addiction — sometimes with fatal results. In Esformes’ Oceanside Extended Care Center in Miami Beach, “an elderly patient was attacked and beaten to death by a younger mental health patient who never should have been at (a nursing facility) in the first place,” prosecutors wrote in a pre-sentencing memo.

As he handed down the sentence, Judge Robert N. Scola Jr. said the length and scope of Esformes’ criminal conduct were “unmatched in our community. ... Mr. Esformes violated the trust of Medicare and Medicaid in epic proportions."

But Scola meted out a punishment significantly less than the 30 years prosecutors requested, saying Esformes also had an extraordinary history of helping people in need. Attorneys for Esformes had described him as a selfless philanthropist who had donated more than $15 million to synagogues, schools and needy individuals, often anonymously.

Said Scola: “I think he should get some consideration for his philanthropy, although it’s dangerous to say because he was stealing money from Medicare, so people might say he was giving that money to charity. But the vast majority of the money he made, he made legitimately. More importantly he was a true friend to people known and unknown to him, and that is worthy of mitigation."

In arguing for a 30-year sentence, prosecutors said his yearslong bribes-for-patients schemes involved the corruption of medical professionals and government regulators, and entailed grievous injuries to a massive number of elderly patients.

“Miami is the epicenter of health care fraud, there was no one like Philip Esformes, he was king,” prosecutor Allan J. Medina told the judge in court Thursday.

Many of his younger, drug-addicted patients spent the daylight hours wandering the streets of Miami while he collected government payments for services that were never delivered, prosecutors said.

“Phillip Esformes used deceptive and calculated means to orchestrate a fraud of the magnitude that we have not seen before,” Medina said. “People who needed to get better, who wanted to get better, they had no shot.”

“His fraud involved thousands of patients, 16 nursing homes, the systematic payment of bribes, a complex web of bank accounts, and brazen obstruction of justice to try to prevent it all from coming to light,” prosecutor Elizabeth Young wrote in a sentencing memo filed with the court this week.

Esformes, who has been in maximum security detention for 37 months since his 2016 arrest, called himself a shattered, repentant man when he stood before the judge. His shoulders drooped beneath his baggy khaki prison shirt as he began rocking back and forth.

“I want to apologize to, your honor, the United States. Sorry. And my community.” As Esformes began to recite the names of his children, he briefly became incoherent. Groans and cries of “Oh God!” escaped from his family and supporters in the gallery.

“I’ve lost everything I love and cared about with the utmost intensity," he said. "There is no one to blame but myself, me.”

While preparing his defense, Esformes told the judge, he had listened repeatedly to wiretapped conversations that revealed him arranging bribes. “I am disgusted by what I heard,” he said, at one point pounding a courtroom podium with his fist. “The Phil Esformes you heard was reckless ... an arrogant man.”

Esformes said he was studying the Torah and praying for redemption. “I won’t miss that opportunity,” he said.

Prosecutors said Esformes should be forced to pay $207 million in restitution to Medicaid and Medicare; attorneys for Esformes sharply questioned that amount in court Thursday.

Judge Scola closely questioned prosecutors about how they calculated the value of the Medicaid proceeds Esformes stole over the years, ultimately finding the loss to be between $4.8 million and $8.3 million.

Federal authorities arrested Esformes at one of his $2 million estates on the Miami Beach waterfront in 2016 and immediately placed him in the Miami Federal Detention Center.

At the time, he had a net worth of $78.9 million in bank accounts and investments, and hardly any debts, according to court papers filed by prosecutors. He maintained a Chicago Water Tower penthouse and a mansion in Los Angeles.

Esformes was deemed an extraordinary flight risk in part because he had been caught on a wiretap offering to help his business partner Guillermo Delgado flee from the U.S. to avoid prosecution as the federal investigators closed in on them.

Delgado, who helped Esformes defraud Medicare for mental health and prescription drug services, instead helped federal investigators bring Esformes to justice. He and his brother Gabriel Delgado are now serving prison time.

In one of Esformes’ crimes, prosecutors said, he used some $300,000 in stolen Medicare and Medicaid proceeds to bribe the head men’s basketball coach at the University of Pennsylvania to admit Esformes’ son to the school.

That coach, Jerome Allen, pleaded guilty in October to a money-laundering charge related to the Esformes bribes. He testified as a government witness against Esformes at the Miami trial. Allen received a probationary sentence and is now in his third season as an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics.

The dozens of nursing facilities Esformes ran with his father and business partner Morris Esformes for decades earned millions of Medicaid and Medicare dollars annually despite repeated federal law enforcement probes and Chicago Tribune investigations alleging substandard care and incidents when disabled patients were assaulted by fellow residents.

“Instead of changing his ways or expressing remorse after these settlements, Esformes simply altered his criminal scheme to avoid detection,” prosecutor Young wrote in the court filing.

Esformes sold his Illinois nursing facilities in about 2012 but kept offices in the Chicago suburbs as he continued to operate homes in Florida with his father, government records and Tribune interviews show.

Full Article & Source:
Nursing home mogul Philip Esformes sentenced to 20 years for $1.3 billion Medicaid fraud

Two Louisiana Caregivers Arrested After Elderly Woman Was Found With Maggots in Wounds

Police have arrested two men in Louisiana after an elderly woman in their care was found with maggots in her wounds.

The victim, whose name and age were not clear, was being cared for by Raymond Hoffpauir, 57, and Dustin Welch, 27, who lived at her home in Crowley, southwest Louisiana, Fox affiliate News 15 reported.

The woman's condition came to light after an extended family member visited her at her home, which they found to be infested with roaches. The relative told police the woman was very weak. Her ankles and legs were bandaged.

When the family member removed the dressing to look at her lesions, she found them to be extremely discolored. Maggots were crawling in some of her sores. The woman is also believed to have been bitten by a rat.

The victim was taken to Acadia General Hospital, where police were alerted to the alleged abuse.

Crowley Police officers questioned Hoffpauir and Welch. Initially, they denied their involvement, but later admitted they had not looked after the woman in weeks, ABC affiliate KATC reported. 

The carers told police they had not changed the woman's dressings in days. They also failed to give her the insulin injections she required for weeks. The hormone is generally used to treat diabetes.

Police told KATC the victim is in hospital, and the Adult Protective Services have been alerted.

Hoffpauir and Welch were charged with cruelty to the infirm. Their bonds have been set at $25,000.

Elder abuse is a "significant public health problem," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states. One in 10 people aged 60 and over suffer abuse including neglect and exploitation, according to the agency. That amounts to hundreds of thousands of people a year.

Elder abuse is defined as "an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult."

Abuse can range from the physical, psychological, financial, sexual, as well as neglect.

The charity Action on Elder Abuse advises those who believe someone is abused to try sensitively bring up the topic, and to provide help and support.

"Whether you are a practitioner, friend or relative, you should always be honest and never make false promises—sometimes the abuse might affect more than one person and you will have a responsibility to other people too," the organization states.

Full Article & Source:
Two Louisiana Caregivers Arrested After Elderly Woman Was Found With Maggots in Wounds

Gulf Breeze nursing home employee accused of abusing elderly man

A certified nursing assistant in Gulf Breeze has been arrested.

27-year-old Kayla Oeth is facing felony charges after she was accused of abusing an elderly man.

The alleged incident happened on August 10 at Bay Breeze Senior Living and Rehabilitation Center.

Sergeant Rich Aloy with the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office confirmed a warrant was issued on September 16 - more than one month after the incident.

Oeth was arrested hours later.

"The allegation is that this individual put their hands on a senior citizen, to the point where there were some injuries," said Aloy.

According to a report from the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office, the victim's arms were bloodied and bruised from his wrists to his elbows.

The victim described Oeth as "violent and mean", and said he feared she would hurt him again, so he stayed in his wheelchair next to the nurses' station all night.

"It's zero tolerance for this kind of activity," said Aloy. "When you're dealing with an individual in an assisted living facility, they need help. They're looking to their caretakers for help."

Oeth claims the victim was in a "horrible mood" and his injuries were sustained as she was trying to help him into bed. She says he fought with her and spit in her face.

Another Bay Breeze employee was present at the time.

He told a deputy Oeth did not follow protocol. He says she failed to tell the victim what she was doing, causing him to become confused then "freak out", "flailing his arms".

Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille says it appears to be an isolated incident, but they do not take these cases lightly.

"One sanction that we would clearly seek is that that individual not be allowed to work in a health care facility in the future," said Marcille.

Marcille says they will be recommending the maximum sentence.

"The circumstances of this particular case, the maximum sentence is up to five years in state prison," said Marcille.

Justin Gibson, an administrator at Bay Breeze Senior Living and Rehabilitation Center, confirmed Oeth no longer works at the facility.

"We all have parents, we all have folks who we care for or may live with who are elderly and they look to us for assistance, and when something like this happens, it's very angering and it's also very sad," said Aloy.

Oeth is scheduled to appear in court on October 3.

Full Article & Source:
Gulf Breeze nursing home employee accused of abusing elderly man

Friday, September 20, 2019

Tonight on Marti Oakley's TS Radio Network: IN THE MIX WITH COZ AND MARTI "LET'S TALK" Court Appointed Serial Killers and Others Who Stalk the Elderly

5:00 pm PST…6:00 pm MST…7:00 pm CST…8:00 pm EST...

It is becoming increasingly apparent that many so-called “professional guardians” are in actuality serial killers. Two recent examples of this were Rebecca Fierle in Florida, and April Parks in Las Vegas. Both were found to have stored and kept the cremated ashes of their victims just as other serial killers keep trophies from their kills to help them relive their pleasure in their crimes. How many other “professional guardians” are keeping trophies?

Cohorts in Crime:
Referred to as “Angels of Death”, many nurses and caregivers are serial killers who are sadistic and take pleasure in ending the lives of the elderly and others. Lacking any sense of compassion or regard for human life, they kill with efficiency. Hiding behind professional titles or, working one on one in a care setting, these people cause untold numbers of deaths.

Claiming their victims are suffering and that toxic drugs are needed in massive doses, the patient is rendered unable to complain. Soft sounding words to the family and friends includes phrases such as, “They have dementia…they forgot how to swallow”. Or how about, …”You don;t want them to suffer do you?” (Now there’s a guilt trip for you!) never mind that the person telling you that is the same person who contributed to the suffering.

These individuals appear to have a pathological interest in their perceived power over life and death. They most always situate themselves in the medical or care giving fields. This not only provides them with the perfect cover, it also provides them a steady supply of victims. The total lack of compassion towards their intended victim is on display as they move from room to room, victim to victim. It is this lack of compassion and the sheer number of victims that defines them as an angel of death.

Do they kill for some sense of power? Is it money? Or do they do it simply because they can?

LISTEN TO THE SHOW LIVE or listen to the archive later

Nessel: Macomb County Probate judge's guardianship appointment violated law

Macomb County Probate Court Judge Kathryn George
By Jameson Cook

A Macomb County judge violated state law when she appointed a guardian-and-conservator company that reaped financial benefits from the appointment, according to Attorney General Dana Nessel.

State Public Administrator Michael Moody, on Nessel’s behalf, argues in a legal document Friday that Probate Judge Kathryn George created a law violation by appointing Clinton township-based Caring Hearts of Michigan Inc. as guardian and conservator for Robert Mitchell and Barbara Delbridge last November, over a daughter and stepdaughter of the couple.

Caring Hearts hired Executive Care to perform the care for the couple, according to the state. Both companies are owned by Cathy Kirk. In addition, Caring Hearts employed the firm of her husband Robert Kirk -- Kirk, Huth, Lange and Badalamenti -- for legal services. The trio of companies share the same address on Hall Road, east of Romeo Plank Road.

Caring Hearts charged more than $250,000 for about six months of care.

George through a spokeswoman declined to comment Monday, referring the matter to court officials.

The Attorney General in the filing Friday seeks to intervene in the Probate case, saying that all prior transactions are “voidable” due to the arrangement.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel
The law in question says, the “Court shall not appoint as guard an agency, public or private, that financially benefits from directly providing housing, medical, mental health or social services to the legally incapacitated individual.”

Moody comments in the brief, “The intention behind this provision is to prevent conflicts of interest.”

“All of these financial transactions set forth in Caring Hearts’ Final Account are presume to be affected by a conflict between personal and fiduciary interests, and therefore voidable,” Moody adds.

Caring Hearts attorney Edward Nahat disputed Nessel's claims Monday, saying state attorneys misapplied the law and should not have sought to enter the case.

"The Attorney General's petition ... misapplied the statute to these circumstances and is over-reaching by trying to intervene in a case she shouldn't be involved in," Nahat said.

He said the law quoted by state lawyers applies to investments and housing transactions, neither of which Caring Hearts and Executive Services were involved.

He said George knew of the arrangement.

Nahat called Nessel's involvement "heavy handed," noting that it has drawn publicity.

He said Caring Hearts supports a review of the accounting and charges in the case.

"A remedy is already available to the family," he said. "They can get their own day in court. They don't need the Attorney General's help."

Probate Court in September 2018 instituted a policy that requires a company or fudiciary must reveal whether a person related to the company or fudiciary is performing a service for the fudiciary or company, according to John Brennan, deputy court administrator.

Brennan said he does not believe the relationships were disclosed in the Mitchell and Delbridge cases.

Expenditures will be reviewed over the next several months. A hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 10.

Nessel issued a news release on the matter Monday.

“It is absolutely incumbent on the courts to ensure that the state’s guardianship system is providing properly for the vulnerable and that the court-appointed conservators fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities to those in their custody,” she said. “That does not appear to be happening in the case of Caring Hearts, which was appointed by Judge Kathryn George as guardian and conservator for Robert Lee Mitchell and Barbara Delbridge.”

Nessel added that the "Estates and Protected Individuals Code specifically prohibits certain financial self-dealing by the guardian with respect to the ward.”

Nessel announced in May that George was under investigation for her role in the case involving the couple following reports initiated by WXYZ-TV (Channel 7).

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack and Macomb Chief Judge James Biernat Jr. at that time of the announcement released a joint statement in support of the probe.

Family members of the couple said George should have appointed them as guardians and conservators to watch over the care and finances of the couple, both 70 or older and in declining health.

Robert Mitchell and Barbara Delbridge
Mitchell’s daughter, Marcie, and other family members complained their visits were limited and that caregivers installed a 6-foot fence around the property near Hall Road and Van Dyke Avenue that blocked the vision of family members who resided next door. The said the couple were virtual prisoners in their home.

They also raised questions about the guardian and conservator company's spending from the couple's more than $2.5 million in assets.

Caring Hearts and Executive Services in early June withdrew from serving as guardian and conservator. Attorney Terry Gilsenan was named temporary guardian, and attorney Martin Brosnan was name temporary conservator.

On June 26, Judge Biernat, who had taken over the case, granted Marcie Mitchell guardianship over her father, Robert, and Anita Little gained guardianship over her sister, Delbridge.

The pair on Friday also were named conservators, although each has to file a bond and paperwork in order to take over.

Attorney Frank Cusumano said Monday he plans to file a legal action on Little's behalf "to unwind the transactions" involving Caring Hearts, Executive Services and the law firm.

"Anita Little wants to do her part to make sure that this activity does not occur and injure another family," Cusumano said.

The older couple are currently residing in a facility in Genesee County, closer Marcie Mitchell’s Clarkston home.

The case developed as Nessel has been vowing to crack down on elder abuse. She formed Michigan Elder Abuse Task Force earlier this year shortly after she took office. This summer, she conducted a statewide “listening tour” to hear complaints about elder abuse and complaints about Probate Court, which oversees will and estates of incapacitated and deceased individuals.

Marcie Mitchell and cousing Gretchen Sommers
Robert Kirk last month was removed as a state Public Administrator for appointment to certain Probate cases.

George has served as a Macomb Probate Judge since 2003. More than a decade ago, George came under the scrutiny of state officials and removed as chief probate judge for her relationship with a now-defunct guardianship company, conflict with the second probate judge and dysfunction at the court.

Full Article & Source:
Nessel: Macomb County Probate judge's guardianship appointment violated law

Please consider signing this petition: Stop the horrific abuse of Michigan's vulnerable by attorneys and judges

Judicial Ethics Office Investigating Judge Who Issued Warrant for Mother of Adult Disabled Daughter

The state’s judicial ethics office is investigating a Greenville circuit judge who issued an arrest warrant for a Lexington County woman who says she has been living as a fugitive since April 2012 in connection with her legal battle for guardianship of her adult disabled daughter.

And, in a related development, Brenda Bryant, who contends she has been forced to live out of state because of the active warrant, has sent letters to the S.C. House and Senate asking lawmakers not to vote for 13th Circuit Judge Edward “Ned” Miller in the judicial election tentatively scheduled for Feb. 4, according to copies of the letter she provided this week to The Nerve. She also said she has notified Gov. Nikki Haley’s and Lt. Gov.-elect Henry McMaster’s offices.

South Carolina and Virginia are the only states where their legislatures play primary roles in electing judges.

“I cannot begin to tell you how this abuse of justice has affected our lives,” wrote the 60-year-old Bryant, who has been jailed twice after being found in contempt of court, in her letters to the Legislature. “I have a home but cannot come back (;) if I do I could go to jail.”

The Nerve profiled Bryant’s case in October. She referenced The Nerve story with her packet of information she sent to the House and Senate this week.

The Nerve this week left written and phone messages for Miller, who has been on the bench since 2002 and serves as the chief administrative general-sessions court judge for Greenville and Pickens counties, but did not receive a response.

Miller on April 2, 2012, issued a bench warrant for Bryant’s “immediate arrest” after finding her in contempt of court for ignoring previous court orders to pay $9,639 to Rodney Pillsbury, an attorney for Tracy Parsons, a court-appointed guardian for Bryant’s intellectually disabled daughter. Bryant contended Parsons, a licensed professional counselor, didn’t do enough to protect her daughter, now 40, from being sexually and physically abused during her stay in a Greenville County group home.

Bryant in 2010 sued Parsons, the state Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN), the Greenville County Disabilities and Special Needs Board, and others. In issuing the bench warrant for Bryant’s arrest, Miller described her lawsuit as “patently frivolous … to the extent that it included Defendant Tracy Parsons.”

Bryant was initially jailed in September 2011 in Greenville County after Greenville County Associate Probate Judge Edward Sauvain found her in contempt for refusing to pay Parsons $9,338 in court-ordered fees. She told The Nerve she was jailed for 30 days but was released after paying the fees, though she said she made the payment under protest.

After Miller issued his bench warrant, Bryant was arrested and jailed in Asheville, N.C; she told The Nerve she spent six days in jail before being released. A magistrate’s order noted that Bryant “feloniously” fled South Carolina, and that her offense was punishable by “death/1 yr in prison.”

Most of the legal actions against Bryant, who for years had legal guardianship of her daughter before it was stripped by the courts, occurred after she won a major legal victory in 2006 in the S.C. Supreme Court. The state’s top court ruled that DDSN and the Babcock Center, a private, nonprofit service provider in Richland County, owed a duty of care to Bryant’s daughter, who Bryant alleged was raped by several men while in the care of Babcock during the 1990s.

Few Judges Sanctioned

In a letter this month to Bryant, Joseph Turner, assistant disciplinary counsel in the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) – an arm of the Supreme Court that investigates ethics complaints against judges and lawyers – acknowledged his office had received Bryant’s complaint against Miller, noting, “We will conduct an investigation into the matters you have reported.”

“Where misconduct is found, sanctions may be imposed ranging from a confidential letter of caution or admonition, public reprimand, or removal from office,” Turner said in the Dec. 10 letter. “If our investigation does not reveal evidence of judicial misconduct, your complaint will be dismissed.”

“It is often many months after receipt of a complaint before a final decision is made,” Turner added.

The ODC typically dismisses most complaints without an investigation, often ruling that the issues raised are appellate in nature as opposed to ethical violations. Of 317 pending and received complaints last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 193, or nearly 61 percent, were dismissed after initial review, according to a year-end report. In comparison, the office last fiscal year dismissed 27 complaints after an investigation, and another 54 complaints were dismissed by an investigative panel of the 26-member state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Only 19 complaints against judges last fiscal year resulted in any discipline, according to the report. Most of the sanctions were private letters of caution; just one public reprimand was issued. No judges were suspended or removed from office.

Legislatively Controlled Screening Panel

Turner’s letter was sent just over a month after a legislatively controlled screening panel, known as the S.C. Judicial Merit Selection Commission (JMSC), qualified Miller for another six-year term on the bench, according to Bryant. Miller is running unopposed for his re-election to his seat.

Under state law, the House speaker appoints five members of the 10-member commission; the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, three members; and the Senate president pro tempore, two members. Only candidates nominated by the commission are eligible for election by the General Assembly.

The law requires that six of the 10 members of the JMSC be lawmakers, which two national legal organizations have said doesn’t meet their standards because the panel and selection of its members are dominated by legislators, as The Nerve previously has reported. The commission’s chairman this year was Rep. Alan Clemmons, R-Horry, who was appointed to the panel in 2008 by then-House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, who resigned from office in October after pleading guilty to spending campaign funds on personal expenses.

Harrell’s plea and resignation stemmed from a 2013 public-corruption complaint filed by the South Carolina Policy Council, The Nerve’s parent organization, with S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.

Because Bryant said she couldn’t return to South Carolina to testify at Miller’s screening hearing in November for fear of arrest on the outstanding bench warrant, she had her husband of 39 years, Rickey Bryant, testify on her behalf. She said she also provided the commission with court records on her case.

In an affidavit provided for the hearing, a copy of which Bryant provided to The Nerve, Bryant said Miller issued the bench warrant without having legal jurisdiction, noting, among other things, that she previously had filed a notice of appeal in her case with the state Court of Appeals.

The JMSC has not yet issued its official nomination report to the Legislature, though Bryant said the panel qualified Miller despite her husband’s testimony. The commission typically requalifies and renominates unopposed incumbent judges; efforts by The Nerve this week to reach commission staff were unsuccessful.

Besides Clemmons, the other lawmakers on the JMSC include Reps. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville and the House majority leader; and David Mack, D-Charleston; and Sens. Larry Martin, R-Pickens and the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman; Chip Campsen, R-Charleston; and Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington. Clemmons, Bannister, Campsen and Malloy are attorneys.

Bryant told The Nerve she sent letters this week to House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York; as well as to Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who also is the Senate Finance Committee chairman, asking them to copy her letter and attachments to all lawmakers. In her letter, Bryant asks lawmakers to “please vote against Judge Edward Miller.”

“We need judicial reform in S.C.,” Bryant wrote, concluding, “I will not be home for Christmas this year but I pray to be home soon. God bless you and Merry Christmas.”

Full Article & Source:
Judicial Ethics Office Investigating Judge Who Issued Warrant for Mother of Adult Disabled Daughter

Nursing Homes Are a Breeding Ground for a Fatal Fungus

Maria Davila with her husband, Anthony Hernandez. She is one of numerous patients at a Brooklyn nursing home with a highly contagious drug-resistant infection.CreditCreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times
By Matt Richtel and Andrew Jacobs

Maria Davila lay mute in a nursing home bed, an anguished expression fixed to her face, as her husband stroked her withered hand. Ms. Davila, 65, suffers from a long list of ailments — respiratory failure, kidney disease, high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat — and is kept alive by a gently beeping ventilator and a feeding tube.

Doctors recently added another diagnosis to her medical chart: Candida auris, a highly contagious, drug-resistant fungus that has infected nearly 800 people since it arrived in the United States four years ago, with half of patients dying within 90 days.

At least 38 other patients at Ms. Davila’s nursing home, Palm Gardens Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Brooklyn, have been infected with or carry C. auris, a germ so virulent and hard to eradicate that some facilities will not accept patients with it. Now, as they struggle to contain the pathogen, public health officials from cities, states and the federal government say that skilled nursing facilities like Palm Gardens are fueling its spread.

“They are the dark underbelly of drug-resistant infection,” said Dr. Tom Chiller, who heads the fungal division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaking about skilled nursing facilities, particularly those with ventilated patients, but not Palm Gardens specifically.

Such nursing homes are playing a key role in the spread in New York, where 396 people are known to be infected and another 496 are carrying the germ without showing symptoms, according to public health officials. In Chicago, half of patients living on dedicated ventilator floors in the city’s skilled nursing homes are infected with or harboring C. auris on their bodies, said Dr. Allison Arwady, the acting commissioner of the city’s Department of Public Health.

Much of the blame for the rise of drug-resistant infections like C. auris, as well as efforts to combat them, has focused on the overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock, and on hospital-acquired infections. But public health experts say that nursing facilities, and long-term hospitals, are a dangerously weak link in the health care system, often understaffed and ill-equipped to enforce rigorous infection control, yet continuously cycling infected patients, or those who carry the germ, into hospitals and back again.

“They are caldrons that are constantly seeding and reseeding hospitals with increasingly dangerous bacteria,” said Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York who leads the nonprofit Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. “You’ll never protect hospital patients until the nursing homes are forced to clean up.”

The story is far bigger than one nursing home or one germ. Drug-resistant germs of all types thrive in such settings where severely ill and ventilated patients like Ms. Davila are prone to infection and often take multiple antibiotics, which can spur drug resistance. Resistant germs can then move from bed to bed, or from patient to family or staff, and then to hospitals and the public because of lax hygiene and poor staffing.

These issues have also vexed long-term, acute-care hospitals, where patients typically stay for a month or less before going to a skilled nursing home or a different facility.

A recent inquiry by the New York State Department of Health found that some long-term hospitals grappling with C. auris were failing to take basic measures, such as using disposable gowns and latex gloves, or to post warning signs outside the rooms of infected patients. At one unnamed facility, it said, “hand sanitizers were completely absent.”

Officials at the 240-bed Palm Gardens did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Over the past year, the number of patients who were infected with or were carrying C. auris there grew to 38 from six, according to a nurse there and public health officials. The tally has now fallen into the high 20s after some patients died or moved elsewhere.

The New York health department issued a statement in response to queries from The New York Times: “The Department of Health has made controlling the spread of C. auris a high priority and has conducted extensive training and education on infection control policies and procedures for Palm Gardens and other nursing home providers throughout this region. The health and well being of nursing home residents is our primary concern and we take complaints regarding quality of care very seriously.”

Scientific research on nursing homes and drug resistance is sparse, but some recent studies offer evidence of the problem. A study published in June in the Journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases found that patients and residents in long-term care settings have alarmingly high rates of drug-resistant colonization, which means they carry the germs on their skin or in their bodies, usually without knowing it, and can pass them invisibly to staff members, relatives or other patients. Elderly or severely ill people with weakened immune systems who carry the germ are at high risk of becoming infected. (Health officials in New York state said 14 percent of those now infected started out carrying it and then developed symptoms).

The study, which focused on Southern California, found that 65 percent of nursing home residents in that region harbored a drug-resistant germ, as did 80 percent of residents of long-term acute-care hospitals, where their “status is frequently unknown to the facility.” By comparison, only 10 to 15 percent of hospital patients carried such germs, the study found.

The phenomenon is global. A study published in 2017 found that elderly residents of long-term care facilities in Britain were four times as likely to be infected with drug-resistant urinary tract infections as elderly residents living at home. Soaring levels of resistance were found in long-term care facilities in Italy, a 2018 paper found. And a 2019 study found that long-term care facilities in Israel are “a major reservoir” of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE — a major family of drug-resistant germs — contributing to their “rapid regional dissemination.”

Experts said the problem is pronounced in the United States, given changing economics that push high-risk patients out of hospitals and into skilled nursing homes. The facilities are reimbursed at a higher rate to care for these patients, they said, providing an economic incentive for poorly staffed or equipped facilities to care for vulnerable patients.

C. auris, which is resistant to major antifungal medications, was first identified in 2009 in Japan and, as of July 31, had infected 796 people in the United States, largely in New York, Chicago and New Jersey, since its arrival here in 2015, according to the C.D.C. Another 1,540 people have been identified as carrying the germ on their skin or in their bodies without showing symptoms.

CreditHilary Swift for The New York Times
On Palm Gardens’ second floor, where Ms. Davila and other ventilated patients reside, signs posted outside nearly every room warn visitors and staff members to wear gloves, gowns and masks — a state requirement for those infected with C. auris.

But during two recent visits to Palm Gardens by a Times reporter, accompanying Ms. Davila’s husband as his guest, orderlies and nurses moved in and out of her room without the required protection.

“The nurses and janitors are just spreading this thing from room to room,” her husband, Anthony Hernandez, said on a visit in August, shortly after a nurse, who was wearing gloves but no mask or gown, poured liquid nourishment into his wife’s feeding tube. During a brief interview in the lobby, Pamela Delacuadra, the center’s director of nursing, said employees had initially struggled with the infection-control protocols required for C. auris.

“It was overwhelming at first but with help from the health department, we’ve gotten much better,” she said.

Ms. Davila’s medical records, reviewed by The Times, do not identify the specific date when she got C. auris. But a chart written by a Palm Gardens doctor in December 2018 includes a note listing her as a carrier of the fungus. She was put in isolation for C. auris patients, and her records subsequently referred to her as having the infection and taking antifungal medications for it.

Palm Gardens occupies a nondescript seven-story brick building in a working-class neighborhood in central Brooklyn. Magenta banners promote its dialysis center and adult day care services, as well as a “respiratory pavilion” for patients on mechanical life support.

CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times
A high-level official from a local hospital that has seen a number of C. auris patients from nursing homes said Palm Gardens was a major source. He declined to be named because his employer had not authorized any comment.

Palm Gardens’s performance is poorly rated by the federal government; it received two stars, a below-average rating for staffing and overall care, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency that ranks nursing home care on a scale from one star to five. In 2018, the agency investigated the deaths of two ventilator patients at Palm Gardens, finding that employees had failed to turn their ventilators back on after performing mechanical checks. The patients died within minutes of each other, the report said.

C.M.S. declined to comment on Palm Gardens.

The ownership of Palm Gardens is controlled by someone identified as Shimon Lefkowitz, according to public filings.

Mr. Lefkowitz did not respond to efforts to reach him through Palm Gardens. Calls to several law firms that represent Palm Gardens in lawsuits were not returned.

Not all Palm Gardens residents with C. auris contracted the germ there, and it is not clear how many did. One patient who died was infected at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, according to the man’s family.

CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times
Skilled nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been playing an increasingly important role in caring for seriously ill patients who used to stay longer in hospitals.

Advances in medical technology have made it possible to prolong the lives of desperately ill patients, while changes in Medicare reimbursement rates created a financial incentive for the expansion of such facilities, said Neale Mahoney, an economist at the University of Chicago who studies the industry’s growth. There are now about 400 long-term care hospitals across the country, up from about 40 in the early 1980s, he said.

Since 2012, the number of skilled nursing homes with ventilator units rose to 436 from 367 — a significant jump but still a fraction of the nation’s 15,000 nursing homes — according to C.M.S.

“Ventilator units are the poster child, the best example of a place that has challenges,” said Dr. Alexander Kallen, an outbreak expert at the C.D.C.

The federal government reimburses facilities for ventilator patients at significantly higher rates than for other patients, according to C.M.S. Ventilated patients can bring in $531 a day compared to $200 for a standard patient. That’s about $16,000 a month compared to $6,000.

The reimbursement rates reflect the significant care required for vulnerable patients, and the cost of equipment.

C.M.S. contends the majority of skilled nursing homes do well with staffing and overall care. Yet roughly 1,400 nursing homes received a one-star rating for staffing in 2018 from the agency.

“It is impossible for them to do a good job with the way their staffing is,” said Dr. Mary Hayden, a professor at Rush Medical College who studies the rise of drug-resistant infections in health care, adding of the challenges of curbing drug-resistant infection: “The way they’re set up, they can’t do it.”

CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times
Ms. Davila carried C. auris with her on her journey through the health care system.

In early August, after a routine blood test found her white cell count plummeting, she was taken by ambulance to Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn for a blood transfusion. Doctors discovered an infection and put her on two different antibiotics. Heavy use of antibiotics, while often necessary, can kill off the nonresistant infections and allow resistant ones to thrive.

Her condition stabilized after two weeks and she returned to Palm Gardens. It was one of at least a dozen trips she had taken to the hospital since she first arrived at Palm Gardens.

Her sharp decline began in 2017 after pain from a suspected hernia sent her to the hospital. A lifelong smoker, Ms. Davila had emphysema, which led to a litany of complications and infections, according to a review of her medical records.

Now she spends her days frozen in bed, serenaded by a Latin music radio station and the mechanical whir of her respirator.

Mr. Hernandez doubts his wife will recover. “If I can take her home to die that would be a blessing,” he said.

He pulled the blanket higher, turned up the radio and told his wife he loved her. Momentarily alert, she fixed her eyes on his and then mouthed: “I love you, too.”

Full Article & Source:
Nursing Homes Are a Breeding Ground for a Fatal Fungus

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Open Letter to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel: Arrest Attorneys Abusing the Elderly.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. Courtesy Getty Images.
Ms. Nessel,

While you were running for Michigan Attorney General in 2018, I was an award-winning investigative journalist, member of the LGBTQ community and a Democrat.

Had I also been a resident of Michigan, I would have cast an enthusiastic vote for both you and Governor Gretchen Whitmer. This was not because of my political and social backgrounds.

I've interviewed politicians, lines of them. All of them parroted whatever talking points they thought my newspaper’s readers wanted to hear. The post-election reality was, as expected, entirely different.

You ran a campaign that seemed to be based on genuine sincerity rather than expedient politics.
“It’s just a basic belief that it’s never the wrong time to fight for justice,” you said. “It’s never the wrong time to fight for what’s right, and that there are so many people out there clamoring for representation, clamoring to have their voices heard, clamoring for recognition of their rights and equal dignity, just as human beings.”
Having spent my career, driven by the same ideology, your promises resonated with me as much as they clearly did with Michigan’s voters who included the voiceless.

But the post-election reality is that you have not only broken that promise, but actively shielded the alleged perpetrators of some of the most horrific and repugnant crimes and flagrant abuses of civil and human rights in Michigan’s history.

In July last year, myself, a team of three Wayne State University researchers and a forensic fraud examiner launched an investigation into the systemic judicial removal of the civil, constitutional, statutory and human rights of Michigan’s senior and developmentally disabled communities as well as subsequent allegations of the abuse, exploitation torture, isolation and robbery of them by public administrators and judges at the Detroit-area Oakland County Probate Court.

On March 12, at the behest of your Communications Director Kelly Rossman-McKinney, my team met with a contingent of your staff led by Child, Elder, Family and Financial Crimes Division Chief Scott Teter.

Over the course of four hours, we presented evidence in the form of court documents culled from 2,278 separate cases belonging to now-former Oakland County Public Administrators Jennifer Carney, Jon B. Munger, Thomas Brennan Fraser and John Yun who had been appointed as guardians and/or conservators over allegedly “legally incapacitated” seniors and developmentally disabled individuals by Oakland County Probate Court Judges Jennifer Callaghan, Linda Hallmark, Daniel A. O’Brien, Kathleen Ryan and former judge Elizabeth Pezetti.

Our findings, which also included data-driven research and interviews with family members and whistleblowers in the legal and medical communities, included:
Thomas Howard. Image taken shortly before his death after
two years of guardianship. Image courtesy of Dr. Bachard
  • Guardian ad Litems (GALs) working in the interest of a court appointed guardian rather than prospective wards by encouraging them to accept a public administrator (sometimes name specific), while discouraging them from attending a guardianship hearing and filing their reports and recommendations as late as the day of a guardianship hearing.
  • Public administrators appointed with no due process afforded to the wards or rights guaranteed under Michigan Compiled Law as well as the dismissal of family members in favor of a public administrator.

  • The use by APS of legal representation by the Attorney General’s office to ensure the guardianship of a ward, over their objections and in cases where the GAL also felt no guardianship was necessary.
Injuries sustained by 96-year-old ward Pauline while
under guardianship and as a resident of Medilodge,
Southfield. Image courtesy of the family.
  • The vacating of advance directives such as Durable Power of Attorney and Medical Advocacy forms without cause.
  • Families (husbands/wives, siblings, parent/child) put under guardianship at the same time and, in some cases separated.
  • The forced removal of wards from their homes.
Woman in unlicensed group home in Pontiac.
Image by Gretchen Rachel Hammond
Fungus growth on leg of Nancy Haddock
after one year of guardianship. Image
courtesy of Catherine Haddock
  • Resale of homes by investors at full market value or higher.
  • Evidence of home mortgages owned by judges and attorneys paid off in three years or less.
  • Massive over-billing, breach of fiduciary duty, double and triple dipping and hundreds of thousands of dollars in unaccounted for money in estates belonging to wards who passed away while under guardianship.
  • Guardian accounts of annual ward billing filed with no corroborating evidence, such as receipts, to justify charges which were approved by all four judges.
This evidence was just part of a systemic pattern and practice established by this investigation, which has been unchecked since for at least the past two decades.

However, in an email that evening, Mr. Teter requested I forward him only the case number and alleged victim contact information in one case where a home was sold under market value or a Durable Power of Attorney ignored.

He did not ask for any further information regarding the use of unlicensed group homes, Medicaid fraud, over-billing, judicial misconduct or public administrator malfeasance.

This was a surprise, given the weight and breadth of the evidence we presented to you. Where two cases can be dismissed as a misfortunate error, 2,278 seems like more than carelessness.

Equally startling was your subsequent March 25 announcement of an Elder Abuse Task Force, my attendance at which Ms. Rossman-McKinney actively blocked by telling my then-Detroit Free Press editor the conference would only address “high level elder care issues” and neither guardianship nor Oakland County.

This was a lie.

During the announcement, you presented nine legislative reforms to Michigan’s guardianship system. No criminal investigations into the activities of public administrators, private guardianship companies, probate attorneys or judges were ever mentioned.

The membership of your Task Force was also concerning as it included pro-guardianship agencies and organizations such as the Michigan Probate Judges and Guardianship Associations, the Michigan State Bar and the State Court Administrator’s Office (SCAO) who successfully blocked reform legislation proposed by the 1998 Supreme Court Guardianship and 2005 Governor Jennifer Granholm Task Forces.

Furthermore, the SCAO has actively and consistently shielded probate judges, such as Macomb County Probate Judge Kathryn George.

In 2008, George was caught handing over cases to ADDMS Guardianship Services—an organization formed by two attorneys who donated to her 2003 campaign and found to have engaged in multiple acts of malfeasance.

After an investigation by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission however, no disciplinary action was taken. Indeed, since 1995 not a single probate court judge engaged in misconduct has been removed from the bench.

The same is true for disciplinary actions against probate attorneys by the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission. The one glaring exception was the disciplinary action against attorney Steven G. Cohen after he spoke out about the alleged collusion between a Wayne County Probate Judge and two attorneys who drained the estate of civil rights activist Rosa Parks.

George remained on the Macomb County bench allowing history to allegedly repeat itself when a 2019 investigation by WXYZ determined precisely the same behavior with guardianship company Caring Hearts formed by an attorney who donated to George’s campaign. Meanwhile George is still taking guardianship and conservatorship cases in Macomb County begging the question as to why.
That isn’t the only thing which has not changed.

Family members who attended your Elder Abuse Task Force Listening Sessions and presented horrific stories of abuse and neglect at the hands of probate judges, public administrators and attorneys across Michigan have reported back that there has been no action taken by your office to investigate these cases.

We have letters to families, from your employee State Public Administrator Michael Moody, who responded with a similar answer to complaints, received long before and after the announcement of your Task Force, by telling them that their best option to deal with allegations of abuse and neglect by Michigan’s professional guardians and probate attorneys is to “get an attorney.”


August 14, 2019 letter from Michael Moody to complaining family concerning crimes allegedly committed to Nancy Collins by Thomas Brennan Fraser. Image courtesy of Jayne Collins.

Your sudden August 23 firing of Yun, Carney and Fraser from their roles as public administrators was similarly ineffective. As Teter told my team, and you have since repeated, public administrators are appointed to open deceased estate cases where their are no living heirs. They take on guardianship and conservatorship positions outside of that job description and as private attorneys. Therefore, they are not subject to oversight by the State Public Administrator.
Although Munger was fired as a public administrator in 2017, he still takes guardianship, conservatorship and deceased estate cases in Oakland County the most prolific of which is the guardianship of Aretha Franklin’s eldest son Clarence. The ongoing deceased estate case is presided over by Callaghan who used to work for Munger’s former law partner Yun and whose Judicial Attorney Christina Waid is also a former Munger employee.
At a September 16, 2019 Elder Abuse Awareness event you attended alongside Michigan State Rep. John Cherry (D), numerous frustrated and angry Michigan families, whose relatives have suffered horrific and neglect abuse by probate attorneys and judges statewide, finally asked the questions as to why these crimes have not been investigated.

They were questions my peers in the media have been unwilling to put to you.

Video of the morning is as shocking as it is revealing:

Growing increasingly foul tempered and unprofessional, you attack the audience: “You don’t know how to vote?” and apportion blame for your office’s inaction to protect Michigan’s vulnerable on Republican legislators who “Don’t care for me,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer, the Secretary of State, budget cuts, every other agency she oversees, lack of staffing and the amount of time she’s been in office.

You responded to these families by telling them “I would rather ensure you don’t lose your money at all, than prosecute.”

You added that they should take their complaints concerning probate judges to the Judicial Tenure Commission, the Michigan Supreme Court or just “vote them out.”

“I guarantee you this is the only way anything will happen, “ you said.

You stated that you need more time.

While that is ticking on, court files indicate that neither they nor the judges have modified their behavior in the slightest. Furthermore, there is evidence that Munger and Fraser are disposing of their assets and that court files such as guardian accounts and ex parte orders are being deleted from the dockets or altered and refiled.

That this is happening under the nose of an Attorney General is unacceptable, That thousands of vulnerable people are in danger while they wait “for the system to work” is unacceptable.

Families in Oakland, Wayne County, Washtenaw and St. Clair counties are now turning to me for help.

Your September 6, 2019 announcement to “object to” over $200,000 in billing by Caring Hearts in Macomb County. is more of a band-aid than a solution. Accounts filed by a guardianship company with no corroborating evidence should be investigated. The receipts should have been filed upon demand from the family and the company should not have been given until January next year to produce them.

It also flies against your defense that you have only been in office nine months since the first WXYZ report on Caring Hearts aired May 30. Yet, you were able to intervene in that case three months later.

We have found absolutely no evidence that you are investigating any other incidents of alleged probate court corruption.

Professional guardians are not immune from investigation when wrong doing is found. This was the case in Nevada and most recently in Florida. After professional guardian Rebecca Fierle was found to have executed Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) orders without the knowledge of her wards or their families, Governor Ron DeSantis made the astute observation that new or existing legislation is meaningless without consequences for those who break it.

In contrast, your lack of commitment to any kind of criminal investigation into alleged crimes in Michigan is astonishing and led my team down a new line of inquiry as to why.

We received our answers when we discovered campaign ties between yourself, Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Oakland County Probate Court Chief Judge Kathleen Ryan.

All of this was laid out in our five-part report published August 23, 2019.
During your campaign, you pledged that “As AG, I will increase resources to defend seniors from neglect, abuse, and exploitation. I'll ensure that unsafe assisted living facilities and in-home care providers are stripped of their licenses, issue scam notifications for public awareness, and vigorously prosecute cases of Medicaid fraud.”
It seems this particular promise came with conditions that did not include anyone other than allegedly abusive family members, friends or low-level nursing home employees such as CNAs. Your arrests of these individuals, while laudable, fit the “majority of abusers” narrative both yourself and the Michigan Guardianship Association have been hammering home since March 25.

Nursing home executives, probate attorneys and judges have yet to become part of that narrative.

A politician who makes promises she has no intention of keeping is expected. One who attempts to shield alleged criminals who are attacking defenseless people with nothing more than a public relations campaign designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the voters who placed you into office is utterly despicable.

While you have forced me to question my own loyalties to party and community, the real shame of it all is that those who will suffer the most are the “people out there clamoring to have their voices heard, clamoring for recognition of their rights and equal dignity, just as human beings.”

Padlocked refrigerator at unstaffed unlicensed group home in Oak Park, Michigan. Image by Slone Terranella.

The seniors and developmentally disabled individuals who are being terrorized by these courts are not just the people you swore to protect, they are human beings.

They deserve better. They deserve justice. It is clear that we disagree on that.

However, for the rest of your tenure, if I have to fight you alone to ensure these human beings are protected and that the attorneys and judges who have allegedly committed some of the most unprecedented and horrific crimes against them receive swift justice. you had better believe I will.

Gretchen Rachel Hammond.

Full Article & Source:
Open Letter to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel: Arrest Attorneys Abusing the Elderly.