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In lawsuit, former Concord hospice worker alleges fraudulent billing

A former employee of Concord’s Beacon Hospice has filed a lawsuit claiming she was wrongfully fired after complaining that the company was fraudulently billing for unprescribed services.

Concord resident Laurie Turner, in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, says an employee at Beacon’s Commercial Street facility directed her to plead ignorance if anyone asked about the undocumented visits.

“She’s just an exceptionally conscientious and principled person and was stunned that the company would fire her simply because she tried to bring the company into compliance with its own polices and with proper billing practices,” said Turner’s attorney, Benjamin King of Concord’s Douglas Leonard & Garvey law firm.

Turner’s lawsuit has been filed against Amedisys Holdings, the Louisiana-based parent company of Beacon Hospice. The company’s lawyer, as well as the director of operations at Beacon’s Concord facility, did not return requests for comment Friday.

Amedisys acquired Beacon in 2011 or 2012, according to King, who said Turner was given compliance training for the new owner’s procedures in June 2012.

Before the training, Beacon’s nurses, social workers and chaplains notified Turner, the office’s business specialist, of patient visits only after one took place, according to the lawsuit. King said those visits were not always ordered by a doctor first.

While Turner had been employed by Beacon since June 2010, King said she wasn’t aware that those billing practices were improper until Amedisys provided training two years later.

In that training, Amedisys notified the employees that visits should be documented in the scheduling system before they take place and that the employees should only complete and bill visits prescribed by a doctor, according to the lawsuit.

Employees failed to follow the new protocol, according to Turner.

“They would visit a facility and see one patient and they’d be hailed by another patient or the family of another patient who wanted their relatives seen,” King said. “And then the (employee) would just go see the patient without a corresponding order. And then Amedysis would bill for that, or Beacon Hospice would bill for that visit even though it isn’t supported.”

Staff billed for those unprescribed services by adding patient visits into the calendar retroactively, according to the lawsuit. Turner says she removed several such visits Sept. 20, 2012, then called Amedisys’s compliance hotline to complain about what she believed to be fraudulent billing practices.

On the same day, Turner says she also asked the office’s business manager to provide her with a complete list of visits that had been added retroactively so she could remove them, but the employee refused.

“We’re leaving them as they are,” the business manager said, according to the lawsuit. “If anyone asks, we’ll just say we didn’t know.”

Turner says she was retaliated against almost immediately after she called the hotline, including being excluded from meetings and being restricted from communicating with home health aides and nurses. Turner claims she had always received exemplary reviews from supervisors, but that in October 2012 she was told in an email that she was working outside of her job description by attempting to direct patient care.

According to the lawsuit, a company human resources employee later found those criticisms to be baseless, but the notes were not removed from Turner’s personnel file as was promised.

Turner didn’t realize at the time that she was a “dead woman walking” at Amedisys, according to the lawsuit.

In November 2012, the company held training in Boston for a new software system that it planned to implement soon.

“Ms. Turner was not invited to the training, nor did she even learn that it had occurred, until the training was over,” the lawsuit reads.

She was fired in mid-November 2012.

King said Turner will likely seek compensation for lost wages, attorney’s fees and emotional damages.

Turner also claims in the lawsuit that she was fired shortly after receiving back pay for large amounts of overtime that her supervisors had knowingly let her work. She is alleging that Amedisys violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which stipulates that employees cannot be retaliated against for seeking pay for overtime hours.

She’s also suing for wrongful termination and accusing the company of violating the whistleblower protection act.

Turner’s lawsuit only accuses Beacon Hospice of improper billing practices at its Concord facility, not any of the company’s 23 other New England locations.

(The original version of this story gave an incorrect name of the court in which the lawsuit was filed.)

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @tricia_nadolny.)

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