Saturday, July 4, 2020
“As reported by the media, the governors of a handful of states in which nursing homes struggled to provide safe and adequate care recently ordered nursing homes ‘to accept patients with active COVID-19 infections who were being discharged from hospitals.’ Governors issuing such directives include those in New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, and Michigan,” Grassley and Walden wrote.
“These state directives were issued as the COVID-19 fatality rate in nursing homes soared. In Pennsylvania, which reportedly has the seventh highest death rate for residents of these facilities, 69 percent of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities are now attributable to nursing and personal care homes. Similarly, in New Jersey, the rate was roughly 52 percent as of last month; in New York, at least 6,000 deaths are attributable to nursing homes; and in Michigan, where the governor’s directive has yet to be rescinded, 34 percent of COVID-19 deaths reportedly are linked to nursing homes.”
Grassley and Walden requested the OIG deliver its findings to Congress no later than September 30, 2020. Read the full letter HERE.
Full Article & Source:
Grassley, Walden Request Investigation into COVID-19 Nursing Home Deaths
HONOLULU — A foundation working to ensure a 94-year-old woman’s fortune goes to benefiting Native Hawaiian causes now wants to stop an auction of items belonging to the heiress some consider a princess.
Attorneys for the foundation are asking a judge to stop the auction until a conservator to handle Abigail Kawananakoa’s finances is named.
Her $215-million fortune has been tied up in a legal battle since 2017, when her longtime lawyer, Jim Wright, argued a stroke left her impaired. Kawananakoa said she’s fine and fired Wright. She then married her partner of 20 years, Veronica Gail Worth, who later took her last name.
A judge ruled in March that she needs a conservator because she’s unable to manage her property and business affairs. Another judge ruled month last month her conservatorship should be unlimited and set a hearing for July 21 to determine who that will be.
Some consider Kawananakoa a princess because she’s related to the family that ruled the islands before the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.
She inherited her wealth as the great-granddaughter of James Campbell, an Irish businessman who made his fortune as a sugar plantation owner and one of Hawaii’s largest landowners.
In a petition filed in court last week, her foundation directors said it’s troubling some of the auction items appear culturally significant, including what looks like a kukui nut lamp used by Hawaiians before European contact that had a bid of $336 as of Tuesday. On Wednesday, the item was no longer listed and there was a message that read, “Several items were recently removed from the auction at the request of the Kawananakoa family.”
The foundation directors allege her wife is behind the auction, saying she has the “chutzpah to auction off Ms. Kawānanakoa’s ‘unique’ and culturally priceless belongings to any random stranger with a credit card.”
A lawyer for Kawananakoa’s wife didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“These items are personal property from Ms. Kawananakoa’s Punaluu cottage, which she no longer visits,” her attorney, Bruce Voss, said in a statement. “All net proceeds from the sale will go into an account to help pay Ms. Kawananakoa’s personal expenses.”
Voss said Kawananakoa needs money to pay her expenses because Wright, her former lawyer and trustee, paid more than $3 million to his attorneys and $400,000 to the foundation’s attorneys.
“Miss Kawananakoa continues to be well funded and the money from the sale is small especially compared to the harm it will cause,” Wright said. “This sale is a cruel repudiation of her life’s work of recovering and protecting Hawaiian artifacts. It is not the first time a Hawaiian leader has been diminished. It needs to be the last.”
The auction is scheduled to close July 12.
“It is extremely troubling to find that an auction has been scheduled to sell items of her personal property prior to the appointment of her Conservator – this is what Hawaiians call hewa (‘wrong’),” Lilikalā Kame’eleihiwa, one of the foundation’s directors and a professor at the University of Hawaii’s Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies, said in a declaration to the petition. “Many of these items are on sale for a mere $10 each. Therefore, the pending auction should be stopped before these objects are lost forever to Ms.Kawānanakoa during her incapacity.”
Full Article & Source:
Foundation fights auction by so-called Hawaiian princess
Judge mulls conservator for so-called Hawaiian princess
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced several new appointments on Tuesday, including a new chief medical officer who will help with the agency’s efforts on nursing home safety and security. The appointment comes four months after the last person to hold the role departed the agency.
Dr. Lee Fleisher, who currently serves as a practicing anesthesiologist, was named CMS’ new chief medical officer and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality (CCSQ). Fleisher also serves as a professor of medicine and chair of the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
He succeeds Jean Moody-Williams, who will continue in her role as a CMS deputy director, according to the announcement from CMS administrator Seema Verma.
Dr. Kate Goodrich, who served as CMO at the agency until earlier this year, left CMS in February to take on a new role with the insurance giant Humana (NYSE: HUM).
“As Director of CCSQ, Dr. Fleisher will use his prior experience to provide overall leadership to CCSQ while focusing on CMS’s continued efforts to ensure the safety and security of America’s nursing homes, improving quality and safety in our nation’s healthcare facilities, and reducing burdensome regulations to give providers more time to care for their patients,” Verma wrote in the announcement.
In addition to Fleisher’s appointment, Dr. Michelle Schreiber was promoted to the deputy director for quality and value at CCSQ, where she will work to move the health care system to one focused on paying for results and outcomes over service and procedure volume, according to Verma. Schreiber joined CMS in 2018.
Karen Tritz, the current director of the CCSQ’s Quality Safety and Oversight Group Division of Continuing and Acute Care Providers, was promoted to the role of survey and operations group director, a role created by a reorganization and expansion of the CCSQ that occurred last year.
Tritz has also served as the director of the Division of Nursing Homes in CMS’ Quality and Safety Oversight Group, at least in 2018; in that role, she worked on issues related to surveys and nursing home reporting requirements.
“These CMS staff changes build upon a leadership team at the agency that has made tremendous progress in advancing several quality initiatives, including by eliminating 79 measures across quality payment programs in the hospital setting, inpatient psychiatric facilities, ambulatory surgery, cancer hospitals, and hospital outpatient departments through the Meaningful Measures initiative,” Verma wrote. “This resulted in projected savings of $128 million and an anticipated reduction of 3.3 million burden hours.”
Full Article & Source:
With Spotlight on Nursing Homes, CMS Announces New Chief Medical Officer, Promotions
Friday, July 3, 2020
When COVID-19 first reached the U.S., the epicenter was a single nursing home in Washington State, where 45 people died.
That nursing home outbreak was a precursor of what was to come. Ever
since, the virus has been devastating nursing homes across the country,
due in part to systemic mismanagement and discrimination against the people who live and work inside.
To date, deaths in nursing homes and other congregate care facilities account for almost half of all COVID-19 deaths in the country, despite these groups making up less than 1 percent of the population. Residents of these congregate facilities are dying from COVID-19 at 8.6 times the rate of the overall 75+ population.
If current trends hold, that means nearly 90,000 people living in nursing homes and other congregate care settings could die by October 1.
Grim as this projection is, the actual death toll to date is likely much higher than currently reported. It took the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) months after declaring COVID-19 a national emergency to start requiring nursing homes to report deaths and infections despite ample evidence that these facilities were at high risk. Even now, nursing homes are only required to report data from May 8 onward. HHS doesn’t require other congregate settings for people with disabilities, such as psychiatric homes, to report at all. This lack of transparency, in addition to the government’s systemic mismanagement of nursing homes and other congregate settings, has helped create the crisis we see today.
In some cases, facilities have not only
failed to report, but have actively hidden deaths from residents,
families, and the government. For example, a nursing home in the Harlem
neighborhood of New York City hid 26 COVID-related deaths from the state
by covertly shipping bodies out of the facility. At a nursing home in New Jersey, 17 bodies were packed into a shed and later crowded into a morgue meant to house only four bodies. Other stories emerged of residents’ families being left in the dark about whether loved ones were dead or alive.
While HHS has lagged in collecting data, states can independently choose to require reporting and publicize this information. But too often, states are slow to report, and the data is often piecemeal and insufficient for analyzing the full scale of the pandemic.
As of June 29, only 41 states report deaths in nursing homes, and the level of detail varies from state to state. Some states offer only state or county totals (such as Arkansas, Indiana, Vermont, and others) while others break down data by facility (including North Carolina, West Virginia, and Nevada). Only 12 states go as far as naming facilities, reporting both cases and deaths, and disaggregating between residents and staff. Disaggregating data in this manner allows us to more accurately measure the impact on various groups of people. Residents are mostly seniors and all are people with disabilities. Staff are disproportionately people of color, women, and low-income. All of these demographic variables are relevant and integral to any adequate public health response.
Even when states do report deaths and infections in nursing homes, most do not offer critical demographic data. This information is essential for assessing the impact of COVID-19 on different communities and demographic groups and facilitating our response. Yet only two states — Mississippi and Iowa — report the demographics of residents or staff who have tested positive or died.
People with disabilities and the people who work with them deserve to be counted. States can and should modify current policies to collect and publicize vital data while maintaining privacy standards. Last week, the ACLU filed a petition calling on HHS to do its job to address this crisis — and its job includes collecting and reporting full data from facilities that receive Medicaid or Medicare dollars.
The government needs good data to
adequately respond to COVID-19. Data helps to inform where to
investigate, where to channel resources, and what policies and practices
to adopt. At the individual level, data helps people decide which
facilities to live in and which to avoid. And in the long run, data can
propel change to ensure this crisis never happens again.
The first step to change the system is to get to the truth. HHS must tell the truth about what is happening in the nursing homes and other congregate settings for people with disabilities that it oversees and funds with our taxpayer dollars.
Maps reflect public data reporting as of 06/29/2020. Links to state-level data sources available here.
This piece is part of a series, read the previous entry here:
|Click to Watch Video|
"Rather than isolating those with the disease from those who were asymptomatic - a basic tenet of infection control - the consolidation of these two units resulted in more than 40 veterans crowded into a space designed to hold 25. This overcrowding was the opposite of infection control; instead, it put those who were asymptomatic at even greater risk of contracting COVID-19," the report said.
CBS Boston reports that staff called the move "total pandemonium" and "a nightmare."
A recreational therapist said she felt like she was "walking (the veterans) to their death," while a social worker "felt it was like moving the concentration camp – we were moving these unknowing veterans off to die."
When a social worker raised concerns about the move, the chief nursing officer said "it didn't matter because (the veterans) were all exposed anyway and there was not enough staff to cover both units," the report said. A nurse said the packed dementia unit looked "like a battlefield tent where the cots are all next to each other."
A healthcare administrator sent in three days later said it looked like "a war zone" and some veterans were unclothed and "some obviously in the process of dying from COVID-19."
As the virus took hold, leadership shifted from trying to prevent its spread, "to preparing for the deaths of scores of residents," the report said. On the day the veterans were moved, more than a dozen additional body bags were sent to the combined dementia unit, investigators said. The next day, a refrigerated truck to hold bodies that wouldn't fit in the home's morgue arrived, the report said.
Since March 1, 76 veterans who contracted COVID-19 at the home have died, officials said. Another 84 veterans and more than 80 staff have also tested positive.
The first veteran tested positive March 17. Even though he had been showing symptoms for weeks, staff "did nothing to isolate" him until his test came back positive, allowing him to remain with three roommates, wander the unit and spend time in a common room, investigators said.
An attorney for the superintendent, Bennett Walsh, said they dispute many of the investigation's findings and are "disappointed that the report contains many baseless accusations that are immaterial to the issues under consideration." The lawyer said in an emailed statement that "Walsh reached out for help when the crisis erupted" and sought National Guard assistance.
"The failure of the Commonwealth to affirmatively respond to that request contributed to many of the problems outlined in the report," the attorney, William Bennett, said.
Walsh was placed on administrative leave March 30 and the CEO of Western Massachusetts Hospital, Val Liptak, took over operations.
Susan Kenney, whose 78-year-old father Charles Lowell died in April after contracting the virus at the home, said she was horrified as she read details about veterans being denied basic care.
"Veterans that fought for our country just put together like cattle, it's unacceptable, it's horrible," Kenney told CBS Boston. "This can never happen again."
The Air Force veteran would have been 79 Monday. Susan Kenney told the station that her his death "was preventable for sure."
The report said officials with the Department of Veterans Services were aware of Walsh's "shortcomings," but failed to do enough about it. The chief of staff for Secretary of Veterans' Services Francisco Urena told investigators they thought Walsh was "in over his head" and did not spend enough time at the home. But Urena allowed Walsh to remain in his job.
"I'm very sorry," Urena told WCVB-TV. "I tried my best."
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who hired former federal prosecutor Mark Pearlstein to conduct the investigation, called the details in the report "nothing short of gut-wrenching." Baker acknowledged that his administration did not properly oversee Holyoke or the home's superintendent.
"The loss of life is difficult to even think or speak about. The events that took place at the Holyoke Soldiers' Home in March are truly horrific and tragic," Baker told reporters at a news conference.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is also investigating to determine if legal action is warranted, she said. And the U.S. attorney's office in Massachusetts and Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division are looking into whether the home violated residents' rights by failing to provide them proper medical care.
Full Article & Source:
Scathing report details "baffling" errors at veterans home where 76 have died during virus outbreak
|Click to Watch Video|
The Pennsylvania Senate Aging and Youth Committee held a hearing Thursday on COVID-19's impact on nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
Health officials, lawmakers, and health care providers joined in virtually.
Senators said many families don't have the resources to take their loved ones out of nursing homes. They wanted to know what Pennsylvania's Health Department is doing to help keep those relatives safe.
"What we did not have the ability to do is what we're doing now, which is this large population-based testing of every staff and every patient, to try and pick up those asymptomatic carriers that are bringing it into the facility in the first place," said state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine at the hearing.
State health officials say more than 4400 coronavirus-related deaths were in nursing homes. That's nearly 70% of the statewide death toll.
At least another 17,400 nursing home residents tested positive for COVID-19.
Full Article & Source:
Pa. Senate committee holds hearing on virus and nursing home impacts
by Alex Rose
Bernadette Branson-Lawler, 55, of the first block of Meetinghouse Lane, was originally reported to have stolen $337,715 from her 78-year-old mother over a period of nearly seven years, according to a release from the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office issued Jan. 28, 2019.
Assistant District Attorney Erica Parham told Common Pleas Court Judge Margaret Amoroso Wednesday that Branson-Lawler had repaid $208,134 of the total $253,285 restitution amount being sought.
She will continue making payments of $500 per month over the next five years to satisfy the remaining $45,151 under the negotiated guilty plea worked out by Parham and defense attorney Matthew Sedacca. Neither Branson-Lawler nor her attorney said anything prior to the sentence being handed down.
Detective Sgt. Anthony Ruggieri of the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office Criminal Investigation Division Senior Exploitation launched an investigation in September 2017 after law enforcement received information about the possible financial exploitation of a 78-year woman, according to the release. The victim, who is non-verbal and predeceased by her husband in August 2009, was residing in a secure unit of an assisted living facility for individuals with dementia, the release states.
Following the death of her husband, the victim appointed her daughter, Branson-Lawler, as her power of attorney. Branson-Lawler remained an agent for the victim until July 2013, when she petitioned the Orphan's Court of Delaware County to become guardian for her mother due to her diminished mental capacity and other health related issues, the release says. Branson-Lawler was appointed plenary guardian by the court until she was removed by the Orphan's Court in October 2017 and replaced by a court-appointed attorney.
Brandon-Lawler sold her mother’s house in Springfield for $269,000 in January 2013, then moved her mother to an assisted living facility, according to the release. In July 2017, Branson-Lawler failed to file the annual guardian's inventory and the annual reports of the person and the estate, as required by the Delaware County Orphan’s Court.
After failing to submit the required guardian paperwork and not appearing for court, a court-appointed attorney reviewed all of the victim’s financial records and discovered suspicious withdrawals made by Brandon-Lawler.
When questioned, Branson-Lawler admitted that she withdrew money from her mother’s accounts for personal expenses, such as her interior design business, her electric and insurance bills and gym membership. She also indicated she wrote herself checks, according to the release.
An investigation ensued and Branson-Lawler was ultimately charged with 21 counts of theft by unlawful taking, theft by deception and false impression, and receiving stolen property, all second-degree felony offenses. The remaining counts were dropped under the plea deal.
Parham indicated that the commonwealth would not object to termination of the probationary sentence early if Branson-Lawler completed making restitution payments early.
Full Article & Source:
Probation for woman who stole $250G from her mother
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Court documents say 44-year-old William Onyebuchi Ogbonna, who is originally from Nigeria and is now a naturalized United States citizen, spent at least three years conspiring with local, national and international conspirators to steal more than $3.9 million from unwitting victims.
The victims were subjects of lottery, inheritance, romance and real estate scams, among other types of fraud, and were tricked into sending money to dozens of bank accounts Ogbonna opened in his name, under the fake name “Donald Miller,” and in the name of different business entities he created to further the scheme.
Records say Ogbonna would take a percentage and then send the remaining money to Nigeria, China and other countries. The majority of victims were elderly and many became destitute as a result of Ogbonna and his conspirators’ actions.
“William Onyebuchi Ogbonna was an organizer and leader of a large, international conspiracy to defraud hundreds of victims, many of who were elderly, of millions of dollars,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Elder justice has been a priority for this office for the past two years and this case is proof positive of that commitment. We are combatting these scams through education and awareness, deterrence, and prosecution.”
Elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act by any person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult. It is a term used to describe five subtypes of elder abuse: Physical abuse, financial fraud, scams and exploitation, caregiver neglect and abandonment, psychological abuse and sexual abuse.
Authorities say elder abuse affects at least 10% of older Americans every year.
Full Article & Source:
Suffolk man sentenced for $3.9 million international fraud conspiracy targeting the elderly
The board is responsible for investigating misconduct by nurses and can take disciplinary action including suspending nurses’ licenses. The auditor found in 2016 that the board was assigning too many cases to each of its investigators and that investigations were often taking more than three years, even in cases including allegations of patient harm.
The auditor determined the board should keep caseloads to 20 investigations per investigator.
When the nursing board hadn’t reached that number by November 2018, three executives hatched a “plan to deceive the state auditor,” according to Tuesday’s report.
The day they had to report the caseload number to auditors, the executives reassigned a bunch of cases to managers who don’t normally carry caseloads and to an investigator who was out on extended leave, according to the report.
The next day, while the auditor’s team was reviewing a report showing the caseload goal had been met, the executives started reversing the reassignments, according to the report.
“The serious and egregious nature of the executives’ overall behavior regarding this matter constituted gross misconduct,” the report states.
The report doesn’t identify the executives. One of the three has since left the board, according to the report.
The nursing board and the Department of Consumer Affairs are investigating and have placed a notice of investigation in the file of the executive who left, Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which oversees the board and the department, said in an email.
The agency and the board are working with the auditor to determine the maximum number of cases investigators should be assigned, Heimerich said in the email.
“We will also begin a department-wide initiative to ensure that this can never happen again,” he said in the email.
The report suggests disciplining the executives and fining them up to $5,000.
A group of employees at the nursing board has been pushing for leadership changes at public meetings. In February, former executive director Joseph Morris resigned after women who worked with him accused him of sexual harassment.
Since November 2018, the investigators have maintained caseloads of as many as 26 cases, according to the report.
Full Article & Source:
State nursing board executives falsified data in report to state auditor, report finds
Jeremy Pemberton is accused of fraudulently obtaining in excess of $500,000 from one victim and more than $200,000 from another. Pemberton allegedly misrepresented the amount of financing he had received from other investors and failed to disclose a default on the lease for 1144 Chorro Street in San Luis Obispo.
Pemberton is facing charges of two counts of securities fraud, one count of financial elder abuse, and two counts of grand theft. If convicted of all charges, Pemberton faces a prison sentence of up 16 years, four months in jail.
In 2014, Jeremy Pemberton and his twin brothers Joshua Pemberton began to solicit investors in their plan to turn the site of the San Luis Obispo Sports Authority into a bowling alley, restaurant and performance site for live music. Their goal was to open in late 2015.
At the time, San Luis Obispo city officials voted in favor of the brother’s plans even though they had been accused of fraud regarding similar proposals in Santa Barbara County. The twins’ prior business deals resulted in claims of fraud and a bankruptcy with $1.4 million in unpaid wages, debts and charity pledges that were never fulfilled.
Pemberton’s arraignment hearing is scheduled for July 8 at the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.
Full Article & Source:
San Luis Obispo developer arrested for fraud and theft
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
|REUTERS ILLUSTRATION/Jason Schneider|
By MICHAEL BERENS and JOHN SHIFFMAN in MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA
|NEPOTISM BY WATCHDOG: While serving on a state board on judicial misconduct, Judge Kim Chaney violated the very nepotism rules he enforced on other judges, appointing his own son to more than 200 cases in his hometown.|
|‘GUT INSTINCT’: Judge Les Hayes served on the Montgomery Municipal Court in Alabama since 2000. “With my years of experience, I can tell when someone is being truthful with me,” he told Reuters. Courtesy Montgomery Advertiser/Handout via REUTERS|
“If we have a system that holds a wrongdoer accountable but we fail to address the victims, then we are really losing sight of what a justice system should be all about.”
“It’s a ridiculous system that protects judges and makes it easy for them to intimidate anyone with a legitimate complaint.”
|David Sachar, director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission: “People can be scared for their life.”|
|CONFLICTING HISTORY: The great seal of Montgomery on the entrance to the city council chamber. Reuters/John Shiffman|
|Reiko Callner, director of the Washington state Commission on Judicial Conduct: Judges have unique power.|
|OUTRAGED: Community activist Karen Jones says she watched Judge Les Hayes “squeeze poor people for more money, then toss them in jail where they had to work off debts with free labor to the city.” REUTERS/Michael Berens|