FLORIDA: Lawyer Hired To Sue Nursing Homes
Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth (D) has hired top trial lawyer James Wilkes "to nail nursing homes that abuse their patients" and "to recover millions of dollars in Medicaid payments." The Orlando Sentinel reports that "Wilkes currently has nearly 300 cases pending against Florida nursing homes." In some cases, Wilkes "is suing nursing homes where patients with Alzheimer's disease wandered away from the facilities and were injured." The Sentinel reports that while it "is typical for nursing homes to be sued for Medicaid fraud over medications that weren't given or treatments that weren't necessary," Wilkes said states should also be recovering the costs of Medicaid payments to "homes that don't take better care of their patients." He said, "Double billing for aspirin is one thing. But real fraud is charging the state to take care of a person and then letting that person walk off and get killed or hurt."
Industry officials are "worried" about Wilkes' philosophy, the Sentinel reports. Mary Ellen Early, a lobbyist for the Florida Association of Homes for the Aging, asked, "What if a home had provided outstanding care but made a mistake one day? There are facilities in Florida that could be severely damaged, even to the point of closing." Nursing home officials also complained that "hiring Wilkes is not fair because he has a vested interest in finding problems." According to the Sentinel, Wilkes "has become an anti-industry activist, urging legislators to pass laws requiring background checks for industry workers and nursing home owners." Ed Towey, Florida Health Care Association spokesperson, said "[T]his isn't the Evil Empire tobacco industry. This is an industry that cares for Floridians and employs Floridians" (Griffin, 3/13).