If I Could Do It Again, I Would Hire a Whistleblower Attorney First
While working as a hospice care nurse, I began noticing we were admitting and keeping patients for years that were ill but not near death and, in many cases, even getting better. As a result, Medicare hospice benefits were being spent on these patients and nurses were unavailable to patients who really needed their care.
One patient I cared for was in hospice for three years! One year, she cooked Thanksgiving dinner for her entire family and was able to go shopping regularly! What was she doing in hospice care?
Because the hospice admitted almost everyone to grow their census—whether they were hospice eligible or not—the nurses were overworked. We had too many patients to care for properly. If you had someone who really was sick and needed more attention, you didn’t have time to help them. Something had to be done.
I spoke up and voiced my concerns on numerous occasions at meetings and to supervisors because I thought they would care. In retrospect, I should have realized the company was too greedy to make appropriate changes. Although some of my co-workers agreed that what the company was doing was wrong, they were afraid to say anything for fear of losing their jobs.
I also was fearful, but felt I had to do something. Thus, I was moved to an office position and eventually fired for “not adapting to my new role.” Although I had thought about contacting Medicare for a while, now that I was fired I decided to write a letter. Not getting a whistleblower attorney first was a huge mistake.
After I called the Department of Health and Human Services, four FBI agents met with me and wanted to know everything. It was at this meeting that I realized I probably needed a whistleblower attorney to protect my rights. I found Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman and, although I wasn’t doing this for the money, I wish I had done this as my very first action.
When I called the law firm I spoke with an intake paralegal who asked me some questions and told me that an attorney would be back in touch shortly. Within 15 minutes, attorney Mark Schlein called me. He asked many more questions. This was the first of several in depth conferences. Within just a few days Mark had a detailed complaint ready to file under seal. The complaint really told the story of what was going on. Mark was very supportive and assured me I was doing the right thing.
He said that a company that was committing many millions of dollars in hospice fraud needed to be held accountable.
Looking back, if I had hired an attorney first, I probably could have saved my job and protected my identity—at least until the government’s investigation was competed months or years later. During this time, I would probably have been able to provide even more information to the government under the advice and guidance of my attorney.
About Mark Schlein
Mark was tenacious in his handling of my case. I don’t know if it would ever have been resolved without him. He was the driving force throughout the case, which took several years to be successfully completed. He is honest and never told me anything that wasn’t true. I had confidence that when he took my case we had a good chance to win. He was always there to provide advice, update progress on the case, calm my nerves and reassure me that that I was doing the right thing.
Mark was very supportive and a good listener. I know he cares about me. He’s that kind of a person. He listened to my frustrations. He was always professional. He’s a nice guy. In fact, I think that’s part of the reason he has such a good relationship with clients, witnesses, government investigators and prosecutors. He can be firm and assertive when necessary—and believe me it was frequently necessary—without creating animosity.
My advice to potential hospice care whistleblowers
If you see fraud happening, do something about it. The health care and hospice industry is full of it. The government and the patients we care for need our help.
Call an attorney early. Have your facts. Have documentation. Call Mark before you get fired. Once you get fired its harder to help your case.
Hospice nurses always want to do what’s best for the patient. But when your company is admitting patients who are not eligible for hospice services and when they stay on hospice for years, then you need to say something. But the first step is to talk to a whistleblower attorney and get advice.
Take care of your patients and take care of yourself. Do the right thing. Mark Schlein will protect your rights and give you the best chance of winning your case.