Universal Health Services (UHS) is the largest and most profitable psychiatric hospital chain in the U.S. In December 2016, Buzzfeed published an in-depth report about how this powerful healthcare corporation is under investigation for a massive fraud scheme involving patient abuse.
UHS has more than 200 facilities nationwide, and raked in over $7 billion in revenue in 2015. Around a third of that revenue comes through via Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, which means that taxpayers are footing a significant portion of the bill.
The allegations against UHS suggest that the hospital chain not only may be disrespecting the trust of taxpayers, but it could also be putting vulnerable patients in harm’s way.
At Any Cost
The civil and criminal allegations that 1 in 10 UHS hospitals are facing center around a scheme to fill as many beds as possible, regardless of the number of patients in need of inpatient treatment.
UHS offers mental health screening and other outpatient services, but according to the allegations, hospital employees were pressured to admit any patient that walked through the door.
In the Buzzfeed article, a former UHS patient shares that she came to a facility for counseling purposes. Though she was experiencing depression, she had no plans to harm herself. When she shared this information with UHS staff members that were screening her, they seemed to understand and asked her to fill out an assortment of forms.
The patient expected to be led to a counseling session after the screening process, but instead she was intrusively checked for weapons, locked into the psychiatric ward, and given medication that put her to sleep.
This type of horrific treatment is a recurring theme in the allegations against UHS, which come from both patients and employees.
Employees have shared that they were instructed to put profit above all else. Regardless of a patient’s actual medical needs, the goal was to use anyone that called or visited a UHS facility as a vehicle to bill insurance programs as much as possible.
UHS staff members were also allegedly pressured to lie to patients in the waiting room about what the screening and counseling process might actually entail, so that no one would be suspicious about the billing scheme.
The alleged false billings aren’t the only troublesome accusations UHS is facing. The healthcare company has also been accused of criminal violations, including physical and sexual assault of young patients.
Across the country, UHS may have routinely allowed untrained and unsupervised staff members to administer behavioral treatments. Some of the allegations suggest that such lax staffing policies, which are against Medicare & Medicaid regulations, may have led to patient suicides.
Employees and Patients Speak Out
In cases where fraud is a matter of institutional policy, it can be very difficult for employees to stand up for what’s right. When facing pressure from management to conform to the scheme, it is not uncommon for employees to feel like they’ll lose their jobs if they refuse to participate.
In other cases involving Medicare & Medicaid fraud, employees have lost their jobs for speaking up (even though retaliating against whistleblowers in these contexts is against the law). If these individuals are unaware of their legal right to report fraud, they may choose to keep quiet.
It can be equally difficult for patients who have been abused by healthcare companies to be heard, or to get the justice they deserve. It is all too easy for a hospital facing fraud and abuse allegations to be dismissive of patients with documented mental health challenges.
In the UHS case, there have been more than 2,800 reports filed regarding fraud, waste, and abuse at various branches of the hospital. In addition, dozens of UHS employees have filed official whistleblower complaints with the government. As the investigations have progressed, more and more hospitals under the UHS umbrella have been implicated.
Fraud in Mental Healthcare Facilities
Medicare & Medicaid fraud waste billions of taxpayer dollars every single year, and this issue impacts every facet of the healthcare sector. For-profit healthcare corporations like UHS are prone to becoming hyper-focused on revenue at the direct expense of patients’ well-being.
Work environments that lack integrity also compromise the livelihoods of healthcare providers, who may feel understandable pressure to follow their employers’ unethical demands. That’s why the laws that protect and reward whistleblowers are so important in the healthcare sector.
Whether or not UHS is found guilty of each and every allegation, companies that fail to uphold their fundamental duty to help patients should be held appropriately accountable.
Employees need to know that when they see patients being abused and taxpayer funding defrauded, it is their legal right to speak up. If it isn’t safe to report the fraud internally, then it is wise to seek qualified, contingency-fee legal representation right away.
Learn more about Medicare & Medicaid fraud in hospitals here.