.- In a legal case that includes allegations of death-hastening drug use and falsified do-not-resuscitate orders, a former hospice executive has admitted speeding the deaths of patients to boost the company’s profits.
The case concerns Novus Health Services in Frisco, a Texas city in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. The company’s leaders allegedly worked a scheme that billed Medicaid and Medicare $ 60 million from 2012-2015, resulting in payments to Novus for over $ 35 million.
Melanie Murphey, 36, former director of operations for Novus, has pleaded guilty to health care fraud and faces up to 10 years in prison, the Dallas Morning News reports.
She has admitted she worked as the “go-between” for Novus owner Bradley Harris and doctors and nurses. She is expected to testify against Harris, his wife, and 13 other defendants, all of whom have pleaded not guilty.
Federal officials said the scheme also involved kickbacks to referring physicians and health care facilities as well as falsifying and destroying documents to conceal activities from Medicare.
Harris’ attorney Chris Knox challenged Murphey’s testimony, saying “we wholeheartedly disagree with her opinions.”
“We are not aware of any evidence that shows that Mr. Harris caused, hastened or otherwise contributed to the death of the hospice patients being treated by Novus.”
Murphey has said that she defrauded Medicare and Medicaid by billing them for patients who were unqualified for hospice services. She filled out forms as if she were a doctor by using nurse’s notes.
She said she followed orders from Harris, who has no medical training. Patients were admitted to hospice without seeing a doctor first.
When patients stayed at the facility beyond the time they were profitable for the company, court records indicate, Harris ordered them to receive higher doses of “whatever narcotic was being used, generally morphine, Dilaudid or Ativan.” This overmedication was intended “to hasten their deaths,” Murphey said in the court document. Harris has no medical training.
An FBI search warrant says Harris sent a text to a nurse that reads “You need to make this patient go bye-bye,” NBC DFW reports.
Murphey said the falsification of paperwork and of orders not to resuscitate patients was done in order to avoid paying for ambulance trips to a hospital in case a relative called 911.
In a March 2016 statement Novus said: “We have not and would not — ever — willfully harm any patient.”