Two people have now pled guilty in a fraud scheme involving a major North Texas hospice provider. Jessica Love became the second when she entered a plea this week in U.S. District Court in Dallas. The February 2017 indictment alleges Love and 15 others engaged in a $60 million scheme under Novus Health Services and Optim Health Services, which were effectively run as one entity known as Novus.
Love, a 38-year-old registered nurse manager and regional director at Novus, participated via recruiting doctors to a kickback scheme, arranging kickback payments to assisted living facilities, falsifying documents, and collecting unused medications from dead patients for later disbursement, according to a factual resume submitted on her behalf.
The document also backs up previous claims that Novus CEO Bradley Harris abused the Medicare system by placing patients on “continuous care”—meaning around-the-clock care—on his own volition and with financial motivations rather than medical ones. Harris “wanted to place Novus hospice beneficiaries on CC as early as possible because Harris wanted to benefit from the higher billing rates for CC compared to routine care,” the factual resume states.
Then, if a patient had been on hospice for too long without change, Harris would instruct continuous care nurses to up the patient’s intake of narcotics to “hasten their deaths,” the doc says. (A previous FBI affidavit alleged Harris texted an employee that they needed “to make this patient go bye-bye.”) If the nurse wouldn’t cooperate, he would have him or her replaced. Use of falsified documents gave Harris—who has no medical background—freedom to call the shots, court docs allege.
Harris’ team also allegedly recruited assisted living facilities and doctors to refer patients to Novus in exchange for kickbacks, and gave patients things like recliners or wheelchairs in exchange for their business.
Melanie Murphey, who was director of operations at Novus, became the first to plead guilty last month. Both women are expected to testify against other defendants, the Dallas Morning News reports. Harris’ lawyer has denied to the DMN that Harris “caused, hastened or otherwise contributed” to patient deaths.
The alleged fraud took place from July 2012 to September 2016. The indictment alleges that Novus billed Medicare and Medicaid more than $60 million for fraudulent services, with $35 million of it actually paid out to Novus.