The USA Today has released a story in which eight separate individuals are accused of embezzling money from patients in nursing homes.  The idea behind a nursing home is that individuals who need daily living assistance are provided with care while still maintaining as much normality as possible, however in these cases the normality has been replaced with robbery.  Trust funds set up by the facility were drained to finance extravagant purchases by the employees. Patients in nursing homes typically set up a form of trust fund with the facility so that their finances are both protected and available to them during their residency.

According to USA Today, there have been 1500 recent cases involving the mishandling of these funds.  Numerous cases involved embezzling more than $100,000 and some even reached as high as $350,000 taken from patients.  While it may not be the fault of the entire nursing facility, it is hard to continue to feel cared for and safe in a place where such a violation occurs.

The methodology behind the scams is impressive and the scammers are careful. The victims are selectively chosen based usually on either the amount of close relatives the patient has or the patient’s state of mind. It is easier to explain an unusual charge when the patient’s denial of the charge can be discredited or, better yet, if no one is asking questions.  The charges were all well documented and receipts were saved, so to anyone other than the embezzler the books were legitimate and clean. The only way to discover the fraud is when each individual charge is investigated, like a $90 charge for designer jeans to the account of a man with no legs.

The reasons for the abuse of funds are many; however oversight is to blame according to a senior official with South Carolina’s Medical Fraud Control Unit. Ken Moore is referenced in the article as describing how usually the one responsible for managing the funds, such as an Office Manager or Financial Manager, is the one that is embezzling funds, and only a lack of checks and safeguards allows it to happen.  The lack of oversight is tragic and many cases could have been prevented had someone been checking the accounts thoroughly. The problem with this is that the responsibility of reporting the validity of the trust funds, as well as most nursing home accounts, has been left largely up to the nursing homes themselves.  While some may hire an external auditor, the majority of nursing homes are letting employees with training in health management perform a task that requires accounting or financial knowledge.  Without proper training it is difficult for anyone to catch the thieves, and the thieves rely on this to pull off simple tricks on large scale frauds.

The real tragedy is that nothing more is being done to attempt to protect the nursing home residents and establish more safeguards.  The lack of audits and control leave massive loopholes within the security of the funds and only when more care is taken with the accounts will they become safe.

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