Elder Justice Task Force Launched and World Elder Abuse Awareness Day Recognized
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA – Nursing facilities and other institutions do not always provide the care and dignity that elderly residents deserve, and millions of elderly Americans suffer each year from other forms of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Facility and institutional failures to provide the care the government pays for results in the waste of government resources and potentially lethal consequences to beneficiaries. Speaking only of the financial impact of elder abuse, it is estimated that elderly Americans lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to financial abuse or exploitation. It occurs in every demographic, and it can happen to anyone.
With this backdrop, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa was selected as one of 10 nationwide districts to form an Elder Justice Task Force (http://go.usa.gov/cSngj). The task force is being assembled to foster a collaborative working relationship among all levels of government officials, advocacy groups for the elderly and the disabled, and others charged with the care and protection for these vulnerable groups. The goals include ensuring the integrity of all government expenditures by eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse in health programs, and protecting some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens from harm, whether it occurs in nursing homes or other institutions or involves financial fraud schemes.
Earlier today, United States Attorney Kevin W. Techau discussed the goals of the task force during a press conference held at the Oakhill Jackson Community Church in Cedar Rapids. The church serves as a Senior Center during the week.
Techau stated, “It is most appropriate that last Thursday World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was celebrated globally, and that I am now able to announce that the Elder Justice Task Force will have its first meeting June 27th. The charge of the task force is simple—protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens by making certain that those charged with serving them provide the care to which they are entitled and to hold accountable those who seek to financially exploit them.”
Techau noted that the office has rededicated its efforts and resources to investigate and hold accountable those who have been involved in activities incompatible with ensuring that the state’s more vulnerable citizens are treated with dignity and respect. A health care fraud auditor and paralegal have joined the office and are working closely with an Assistant United States Attorney and health care fraud paralegal. Bolstering the commitment to hold accountable those who take action inconsistent with recognized rules, regulations and criminal laws has paid dividends.
Last year the office held accountable a national home health care agency for not following the rules when making claims for payment. The rules of both Medicare and the state of Iowa’s Medicaid program required an independent physician to certify that home healthcare services were medically necessary and to order the specific type and amount of healthcare services to be provided by the home health agency. Additionally, Medicare and Iowa Medicaid rules required these independent physicians to perform an in-person “face-to-face” assessment of each patient before the home health agency could bill the government for any home healthcare services. The home health care agency ignored these rules and by doing so violated the False Claims Act. A settlement was reached resolving allegations that for the five year period beginning 2009 the company billed the government for services provided to Medicare and Medicaid patients in Iowa without documenting compliance with these requirements. The company agreed to pay $5.6 million to the United States and the State of Iowa to resolve the allegations.
More recently the office indicted a woman who prayed on an out of state elderly couple. This mail fraud scheme involved the defendant making false representations and promises to an elderly woman claiming she had won a lottery, sweepstakes, or otherwise was entitled to large sums of money. The victim was told the winnings or funds could be claimed only if she would first mail the defendant money for purported taxes, fees, or similar alleged prerequisites for payment. In truth, no such winnings existed and the telephone calls were designed only to permanently deprive the victim and her husband, a resident of a long-term care facility with dementia, of their money. Like many senior citizens in the United States, the couple received unsolicited telephone calls; they even changed their telephone number to avoid unsolicited calls, but such calls nonetheless resumed after they changed their phone number. The defendant has recently pled to two counts of mail fraud and one count of using a fictitious name in that fraud. A sentencing date has not yet been set.
World Elder Abuse Awareness Day was launched on June 15, 2006, by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. It is celebrated annually on or around June 15th. Its purpose is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.
The United States Attorney’s Office celebrates this day and is committed to being vigilant each and every day to ensure our senior citizens are treated with the dignity and respect they so deeply deserve.
To learn more about the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative, visit: https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/
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