Former COO Of Hospice Company Indicted For Fraud, Allegedly Put People In Hospice Who Were Not Terminally Ill

Dawn Papple

Mary Ann Stewart, the former Chief Operations Officer for the Pittsburgh-area Horizons Hospice LLC, has been indicted by a federal grand jury after she allegedly both orchestrated a health fraud scheme in which people were put into a hospice center when they were not terminally ill and for making false declarations in front of a grand jury, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Western District of Pennsylvania. Stewart, who now lives in Bossier City, Louisiana, allegedly also provided untrue testimony to a series of four questions in front of a grand jury. Mary Ann Stewart is the sole defendant in a five-count indictment, according to the FBI.

"Stewart was the chief operations officer for Horizons Hospice LLC, which provided end-of-life hospice care to eligible patients. A significant number of patients were eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. The indictment alleges Stewart orchestrated a scheme whereby she caused her staff to place non-qualifying patients into hospice care that were not appropriate, and then recertified the patients for continued hospice care."

A former medical director at the Horizons Hospice, Oliver Herndon, pleaded guilty to similar charges last fall according to Healthcare Finance News. Stewart was the second charged in the hospice fraud scheme, which according to WCED, allegedly resulted in the collections of millions of dollars in false billing as people who were not dying were sent to hospice care.

The case began with an investigation into Herndon after 26 Pittsburgh-area pharmacy workers tipped DEA agents off about a large number of narcotic pain killers like oxycodone and oxymorphone coming from Herndon's own private practice in an upscale suburb. Herndon provided so many painkillers to the area that the feds said the street price for the narcotics doubled after he was arrested. Once that investigation exposed wrong doing, the reportedly disturbing hospice fraud was uncovered after that.

According to the U.S. Attorney's indictment, a "significant number of patients" on Medicaid and Medicare were affected by the hospice fraud scheme. She is accused of having her staff members admit patients who she knew were not actually near the end of their lives into the hospice facility. According to the Washington Times, hospice care usually involves only pain management and comfort measures.

The maximum sentence for the health care fraud charge is 10 years. For each count of making a false declaration before a grand jury, Stewart potentially faces five years in prison and/or a fine of $250,000, according to the FBI, which made sure to point out that an indictment is an accusation and Stewart is assumed innocent unless she is proven guilty.

Stewart will be arraigned on March 19 for the hospice-related fraud charge and the false declarations charges.

[Photo via USDOJ]