The Department of Justice announced four San Diego-area nursing homes owned by Los Angeles-based Brius Management Co. have agreed to pay at least $6.9 million to resolve allegations that their employees paid kickbacks for patient referrals and submitted fraudulent bills to government health care programs. The four nursing homes involved in the settlement are: Point Loma Convalescent Hospital, Brighton Place – San Diego, Brighton Place – Spring Valley, and Amaya Springs Health Care Center in Spring Valley. The settlement resolves an investigation into allegations that their employees paid kickbacks to discharge planners at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego to induce patient referrals to the nursing homes in violation of the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.
“Kickbacks for patient referrals are illegal under federal law because of the corrupting influence on our nation’s healthcare system,” said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown. “This settlement demonstrates our resolve to combat fraud that compromises the care provided to patients served by a government healthcare plan. This case further shows the power of whistleblowers to shine a light on corrupt activities and obtain significant recoveries on behalf of United States taxpayers.”
The investigation examined additional allegations made in a “whistleblower” lawsuit that the nursing homes submitted false claims to Medicare and Medi-Cal for services provided to patients referred from Scripps Mercy Hospital. Bills submitted for patients referred as a result of illegal kickbacks would constitute fraud against the United States and the State of California.
The settlement resolves a lawsuit brought by a former employee of one of the nursing homes under the qui tam – or whistleblower – provisions of the federal and state False Claims Acts, which allow private citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the United States and California and share in any recovery. The whistleblower, Viki Bell-Manako, will receive 20 percent of each settlement payment. Pursuant to the settlement, United States District Judge John F. Walter today dismissed the lawsuit, United States of America, State of California ex rel. Bell-Manako v. Brius Management Co., et al., CV11-2036-JFW.
Nursing home employees conspired to pay kickbacks allegedly without the knowledge of Brius Management Co. The nursing homes admitted that their employees used corporate credit cards to pay for gift cards, massages, tickets to sporting events, and a cruise on the Inspiration Hornblower that were given to planners at Scripps Mercy Hospital as kickbacks.
“Skilled nursing facilities that pay kickbacks in order to boost profits will be held accountable for their improper conduct,” said Christian J. Schrank, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General. “We will continue to crack down on kickback arrangements, which can corrupt medical decision-making and undermine the public’s trust in the health care system.”