$28 Million Jury Verdict in Nursing Home False Claims and Whistleblower Act Fraud Case

Two former employees of Momence Meadow Nursing Center, Vanessa Absher and Lynda Mitchell, asserted that Momence Meadows and its owner, Jacob Graff, consistently chose not to provide nursing home residents with the adequate care. It was alleged that the nursing home staff allowed patients to suffer neglect, lack of medical care and food, lying in urine- and feces- soaked beds, not receiving required prescribed medications and suffering ongoing outbreaks of skin disorders and infections, including bed sores and at least 6 deaths attributable to defendants’ failure of care.

The plaintiffs, the individual whistleblowers and the United States contended that the defendants chose not to meet the Illinois Department of Public Health’s minimum staffing requirements. It was claimed that the defendants were guilty of grossly inadequate staffing levels and knowingly submitted thousands of false claims for payment to Medicare and Medicaid, forged and destroyed medical documents and staffing logs to conceal the inadequate care, instructed the nursing staff not to log negative information related to patient care such as falls and missed meals and medication, and routinely ripped out pages from medical records that would have shown lapses in care. The defendants were alleged to have then replaced medical records with more favorable entries and even forged nurses’ signatures. 

During the employment of Absher and Mitchell, they  repeatedly complained to the nursing homes’ management and reported several incidents to the Illinois Department of Public Health nursing home hotline. 

Mitchell, a registered nurse, maintained that she was subjected to continuous verbal abuse and hostility from superiors in retaliation for her complaints to management leading to her retaliatory termination in February 2003. Absher, a licensed practical nurse, resigned after learning of Mitchell’s unlawful termination. 

The plaintiffs alleged that Momence Meadows Nursing Center and Graff fabricated charges against each of them with the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation. Those charges were dismissed in 2004. The lawsuit was brought under the Federal False Claims Act and the Illinois Whistleblower Reward and Protection Act.

Defendants denied all allegations. The jury, however, found both of the defendants knowingly provided worthless services and knowingly submitted 1,729 false certified claims to the government. The jury awarded the government $3,030,409 in damages (trebled to $9,091,227 plus $11,000 in civil penalties) (the maximum amount) for each of the 1,729 false/fraudulent claims.  (Total was $19,019,000.)

The presiding federal judge, Hon. Harold A. Baker, later removed the $19 million in civil penalties and reduced the total award to $9,503,547.

The attorneys for the plaintiffs were Matthew Farmer and Gale Pearson and Stephen Randall for both Absher and Mitchell. The jury’s original verdict of $28,522,547 was made up of the following damages:

  • $150,000 to Vanessa Absher;
  • $262,320 to Lynda Mitchell;
  • $28,110, 227 to the United States.

Vanessa Absher, Lynda Mitchell and United States of America v. Momence Meadows Nursing Center, Inc., et al., No. 04 C 2289 (USDC IL – Urbana, Illinois).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois nursing home abuse cases, nursing home injury and fall cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Berwyn, Riverside, Bedford Park, Palos Heights, Elmwood Park, Harwood Heights, Norridge, Chicago (Andersonville), Chicago (Bronzeville), Chicago (Beverly), Chicago (Chatham), Chicago (East Garfield Park), Chicago (Hyde Park) and Hinsdale, Ill.

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