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Hospice Provider Allegedly Overmedicated Patients to Hasten Death

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A Frisco, Texas-based Hospice care provider is at the center of a $60 million Medicare and Medicaid fraud case that includes allegations that the provider directed its Hospice nurses to administer higher doses of medication, including morphine, to their patients to hasten their deaths.

The allegations, made by a former executive of the company who is now cooperating with authorities, include certification of medical services to Medicare and Medicaid by the chief executive of the company who is not a licensed doctor and therefore not authorized to do so, manipulation of the care schedules of patients to maximize billing practices, the overdosing of patients to hasten death to reduce company expenses, and the forging of “Do Not Resuscitate” orders to save on ambulance fees.

The allegations are explosive and open the company up to both criminal and civil liability. The US Department of Justice is likely to pursue recovery of the $60 million in fraudulently-submitted claims, but the company is likely to be sued by the families of individuals who may have had their lives shortened by improper dosing, forged orders, or manipulated care schedules. These families could sue on behalf of the deceased individual as well as on their own behalf for torts such as intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence.

The company is likely to be sued by individuals and their family members, but those families may also seek to hold the individual executives that directed the fraud liable as well. The acts of those individuals were very clearly not within the scope of their employment and well outside the bounds of normal conduct.

Generally, for an individual to be eligible for Hospice services, a doctor must certify that the individual is likely to die due to a terminal illness within the next six months. While this does not eliminate the ability of a family or the estate of a deceased individual to file a claim for compensation against the provider, it does likely reduce the amount of money that can be claimed from a damages standpoint, since damages consider the life expectancy of the individual. In this case, however, the actions of the individuals were so egregious that the life expectancy of the sick individual may be less of a hurdle.

The cooperation of the company executive makes it likely that the individuals responsible for these actions will be held responsible. What remains to be seen is what is available to financially compensate the families of the deceased. Competent representation can ensure that all possible sources of funding any judgments are identified and that those judgments are maximized through the capable prosecution of any claims.