By Staff Writer
Last week, a federal grand jury indicted four former administrators and officials of a now-shuttered southwest Virginia nursing home. The four defendants are facing charges of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid by running their Brian Center Health and Rehabilitation Center in Weber City without sufficient personnel or supplies. The prosecution holds that vendors, employees, and residents were the victims of fraud as it applied to the conditions of the center. The grand jury indicted the four defendants on a total of 71 counts of fraud and other crimes.
Named as defendants in the indictment were the facility’s owner, vice president, chief accountant, and an administrator. Three of the defendants were in federal court on Thursday, and all who were present pleaded not guilty. They are Alicia Dietrich, 53, of Lancaster, Ohio; Avi Klein, 45, of Miami Beach, Florida; and Charles R. Menten, 62, of Wilton Manors, Florida.
According to the Associated Press, Dietrich was a vice president and Menten was the facility’s chief accountant while the fourth defendant, Vickie Cox of Kingsport, Tennessee, was the center’s administrator. Klein is the owner of the facility. Cox, who is 46 years old, is scheduled to be arraigned this week.
The indictment provides examples of the alleged nursing home abuse that occurred in the facility, including information on one patient identified only as “Resident 15.” Resident 15 was completely dependent on the staff for care, yet the charging document alleges the patient was never repositioned in bed nor was the patient cleaned when soiled from incontinence. When Resident 15 developed bed sores and other painful ailments, the complications were hidden from the resident’s records by those accused, the 41-page indictment claims. Many other similar incidents are cited in the 41-page document.
The attorney representing Mr. Klein, has blasted the case against his client, calling it “worthless” and adding that prosecutors have erred in using a services fraud theory typically employed in civil lawsuits as the basis for the criminal charge. The defense attorney also said his client vigorously disputes the facts alleged in the indictment. Menten’s attorney stressed that there is “more than one side to the story,” and that his client and the other defendants will have a chance to present their side of the story when the matter goes to trial, scheduled for early January 2015.
In the meantime, the case provides opportunity for the discussion of several legal, and emotional, issues. From the perspective of prosecutors, the documentation of the care that was provided — or not provided as alleged in the indictment — rose to the level of criminal fraud. Without full access to all of the evidence, it’s too early to say whether that point of view is correct, but it understandable that the allegations have rocked the community and been devastating for all involved.
There is, however, another point of view here; that of the patients and their loved ones who are left to deal with injuries that may have been caused by the alleged abuse or neglect. Nursing home abuse is, unfortunately, a problem in the US that appears to be growing along with the size of our aging population. According to the National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA), it is impossible to know for certain how many people suffer from elder abuse and neglect, though studies they cite have shown that female elders are abused a higher rate than males, and the older one becomes the more likely one is to be abused.
The vast majority of abuse, according to the only national study conducted in the US, is inflicted upon elders by their family members. See The National Center on Elder Abuse, Westat, Inc. (1998). That study found that approximately 90 percent of the known cases of elder abuse were tied to relatives. However, the abuse of elders – including those with disabilities and illness – by service providers, care assistants, and other professionals and individuals, still occurs at troubling rates.
Patrick Woolley Attorney At Law