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Hospice Abuse

Let a California Hospice Abuse Lawyer Pursue Compensation

Hospice is a type of medical care that helps patients with terminal illnesses live as comfortably as possible for as long as possible at the end of their lives. It is concerned with alleviating the symptoms of terminal illness rather than treating the underlying illness so that the patient may live out the remainder of his or her days with as much dignity and comfort as possible. It requires practitioners to act with an extraordinary level of care and sensitivity toward their patients. Unfortunately, however, hospice providers do not always follow the appropriate standard of care and harm their patients; others may also try to take advantage of a hospice patient during this final period of extreme vulnerability. When that happens, a California hospice abuse attorney can help.

What Is Considered Hospice Abuse?

Hospice abuse is similar to nursing home abuse in that it involves negligent or abusive behavior by those in power over individuals they are charged with caring for. Some of the most common types of hospice abuse include:

  • Neglect: Neglect in the hospice setting occurs when a provider fails to follow the appropriate standard of care or makes a mistake and indirectly causes harm to the patient.
  • Abuse: Abuse is intentional behavior designed to harm the victim by exploiting their weak and vulnerable state. There are several types of hospice abuse, including physical abuse, psychological abuse, and financial abuse. Overmedication or chemical restraint (through excessive sedation) also constitute abuse.
  • Breach of contract: A breach of contract occurs when a hospice provider takes action (or fails to take action when required to do so) that is contrary to an agreement they made with the patient or the patient’s representatives. Overbilling, using unqualified personnel or facilities, or charging for services or procedures not provided are examples of these kind of breaches.
  • Medical malpractice: Malpractice is a form of medical negligence that occurs when a medical professional does not provide the appropriate standard of care to a patient that another reasonable medical professional would have provided in the same or a similar situation.
  • Wrongful death: Wrongful death occurs when the patient dies not as the result of his or her underlying condition but due to the negligence or abuse of medical staff, caregiver, and other person who may have exploited and abused the patient.

Like nursing home abuse, some forms of hospice abuse are easier to detect than others. Friends and family of hospice patients should monitor them closely to detect changes in their physical condition or mental state that could indicate abuse is occurring.

Examples of Hospice Abuse

  • Failure to respond to the patient’s needs
  • Failure to timely call emergency services
  • Inflating the price of services beyond that specified in the contract
  • Over- or under-medicating the patient
  • Malnutrition or feeding patient a harmful diet
  • Physically or sexually assaulting the patient
  • Demeaning, degrading, or mocking the patient
  • Unauthorized use of physical restraints
  • Stealing money or personal effects from the patient
  • Failing to seek the appropriate medical treatment when necessary

Compensation and Legal Remedies Available with the Help of a California Hospice Abuse Lawyer 

There are a variety of legal avenues for holding hospice providers accountable for abuse. Some of the most common include personal injury claims, breach of contract claims, wrongful death claims, and claims under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act. If successful, a plaintiff may recover damages for medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of quality of life, funeral and burial cost, and, in some cases, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs for bringing his or her suit.

How Common Is Hospice Abuse and Neglect?

Statistics on the prevalence of nursing home abuse are comprehensive and widely available, but hospice abuse data is not as well-developed. However, the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) produces periodic reports on the state of hospice care in the U.S. The most recent report of over 4,500 hospices that participate in Medicare found that:

  • More than 80% had a deficiency
  • Nearly 20% had one or more serious deficiencies
  • One-third had complaints filed against them
  • Over 300 were categorized as “poor performers”

Even more disturbing, the report found that none of a sample of 12 hospices where patient harm occurred faced serious consequences from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). In the absence of swift and severe administrative action, the families of victims of hospice abuse are often left to pursue remedies on their own. A California hospice abuse lawyer can help you begin that process.

How To Protect Your Loved Ones From Hospice Abuse

One major problem area the HHS report illustrated was that Medicare beneficiaries have limited access to quality of care information for hospices. While CMS does maintain a hospice information repository, its data on quality of care is not as comprehensive as it could be. Accordingly, there are several steps concerned family members can take to protect their loved ones from hospice abuse when planning for hospice care:

  • Look up the facility’s overall score using the CMS database
  • Check to see whether the facility is accredited
  • Visit the facility to assess its physical condition
  • Find out how complaints are handled
  • Determine how long the facility has been in business
  • Inquire about the requirements, qualifications, and screening process for staff 

For more information about choosing a care facility for a loved one, please refer to our Guide to Senior Living & Housing or contact a California hospice abuse lawyer.

Hospice Abuse and Fraud

Fraud is also a major area of concern for hospice care. While fraud on the part of a hospice provider does not necessarily mean that abuse is occurring, it is indicative of a poor workplace culture, which can become a breeding ground for abuse and neglect. A few common examples of hospice fraud include:

  • Billing the patient or his or her family for services that are covered under Medicare or private insurance
  • Billing for services not rendered or for services that were rendered but unnecessary
  • Billing for palliative treatments that the facility knows will not alleviate a patient’s symptoms
  • Over-billing or double-billing for services
  • Providing treatments designed to cure conditions that the facility knows are incurable
  • Failure to report improvements in a patient’s condition that would warrant discharge from the facility
  • Failure to provide the agreed-upon level of care as specified in the hospice contract
  • Making payments to physicians or nursing homes in exchange for patient referrals (known as “kickbacks”)

Hospice fraud such as that found in the above examples can significantly increase the cost of hospice care and potentially diminish the quality of care patients receive. Victims and their families may also have grounds to blow the whistle of hospice fraud where the government is paying the fees through Medicare or Medi-Cal. Our lawyers represent whistleblowers who bring actions against wrongdoers under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. §§ 3729-3733.

Contact a California Hospice Abuse Attorney for More Information

If you suspect that someone you love or care about is experiencing abuse in a hospice care setting, you should act swiftly to put an end to it. To get started, please contact a California hospice abuse attorney at the Evans Law Firm by using our online form or calling us at 415-441-8669.

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