California sues largest US nursing home chain after exposé

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California prosecutors are suing the nation's largest chain of senior living communities, claiming Brentwood, Tenn.-based Brookdale Senior Living has manipulated Medicare's star-rating system, according to a March 15 news release. 

The lawsuit was filed by California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, and a coalition of other prosecutors. The suit is one of the first to accuse nursing homes of submitting false information to Medicare's ratings program, according to The New York Times. 

The rating system overseen by CMS was rolled out more than a decade ago and is based on largely unaudited data submitted by nursing homes.

The California prosecutors allege that until April 2018, Brookdale received "undeserved higher star ratings" by submitting false information about its staffing, such as exaggerating the number of hours nurses worked. The lawsuit also accuses Brookdale of illegally transferring residents to "fill its beds with residents who will bring in more money."

"The chain's manipulation has allowed Brookdale to attract prospective patients and their families to its facilities by misleading them about its quality of care," prosecutors claim. 

Heather Hunter, a spokesperson for Brookdale, denied that the company had "engaged in intentional or fraudulent conduct."

"We are disappointed in the allegations against the skilled nursing industry," Ms. Hunter said March 15, according to the Times. "Publicizing unproven allegations is reckless and undermines the public's confidence in a service necessary to the care of elderly individuals, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The lawsuit seeks civil penalties and an injunction to prevent unlawful conduct. It follows a recent Times investigation that found many nursing homes have taken advantage of the star system to achieve higher ratings without addressing quality issues. 

 

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