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Iowa Included in DOJ’s Multi-Agency Effort Targeting Elder Abuse

on Friday, 20 May 2016 in Health Law Advisory: Zachary J. Buxton, Editor

In late March 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ or the Department) announced several Elder Justice Task Forces throughout the United States to combat elder abuse in nursing facilities and other facilities providing services to the elderly. The Northern District of Iowa was selected as one of the DOJ’s ten initiatives.

As a joint effort among Federal, state, and local governments, the Task Forces anticipate addressing all facets of elder abuse, including financial exploitation, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. The DOJ’s press release specifically references instances of “grossly substandard care” likely alluding to relatively recent cases of deplorable living conditions for nursing home residents such as those in United States v. Houser (754 F.3d 1335 (2014)).

The Task Forces will coordinate efforts from the “U.S. Attorney’s Office, state Medicaid Fraud Control Units, state and local prosecutors’ offices, the [U.S.] Department of Health and Human Services, state Adult Protective Services agencies, Long-Term Care Ombudsman programs and law enforcement.”

Ten states will house the Task Forces including California, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington. The list also includes the Northern District of Georgia – the location of the Houser case where conditions were described as both “barbaric” and “uncivilized” – in addition to the Northern District of Iowa. The Iowa Task Force will cover more than half of Iowa’s 99 counties which include some of Iowa’s largest cities of Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Waterloo, and Dubuque.

The DOJ’s announcement and approach to elder abuse and fraud reflects existing multi-agency initiatives established to fight health care fraud within the past ten years. Another joint Federal, state, and local effort – the Medicare Fraud Strike Force Teams – has filed over 1,000 cases charging more than 2,500 defendants with Medicare fraud since its inception in 2007. The DOJ also paired with the U.S. Department of Health and Human services in 2009 to form the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT).

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force Teams and HEAT have collectively pursued individuals responsible for billing Federal health care programs billions in fraudulent claims. If the success of these multi-agency efforts is any indicator for the Elder Justice Task Forces, nursing facilities and other providers of elderly services should anticipate an uptick in enforcement activities.

Zachary J. Buxton

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