The settlement resolves eighteen qui tam lawsuits alleging healthcare fraud and mistreatment of psychiatric and behavioral health patients.

Bracker & Marcus LLC is pleased to announce a $117 million False Claims Act settlement with Universal Health Services, Incorporated (UHS). The settlement resolves eighteen whistleblower lawsuits filed against the hospital system, including a qui tam claim filed by its client, Heidi Parent-Leonard.

Coming Together to Protect Fragile Citizens

UHS owns and provides services to nearly 200 inpatient psychiatric and behavioral treatment facilities nationwide, including Forest View Psychiatric Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

When social worker Heidi Parent-Leonard began working as a case manager at Forest View, she was stunned by the inadequacy of the services being provided. “[The primary psychiatrist] would line patients up in the hallway and spend five minutes talking to each, one after another,” said Ms. Parent-Leonard. “Nobody was getting the help they needed.”

These brief meetings, Ms. Parent-Leonard alleged, were billed to Medicare and Medicaid as costly therapy sessions. Ms. Parent-Leonard also alleged that the hospital admitted ineligible and under-medicated patients to lengthen their stays.

After reporting her concerns to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Ms. Parent-Leonard retained Bracker & Marcus LLC to file one of the eighteen qui tam lawsuits that would ultimately be brought against UHS. The $117 million settlement resolves allegations that UHS billed for medically unnecessary inpatient behavioral health services and failed to provide adequate and appropriate services at facilities throughout the country.

“I’m both proud and grateful that the situation has been resolved in a way that acknowledges patients’ dignity and rights as the primary focus of ethical treatment and practice,” said Heidi Parent-Leonard. “My hope is that the hospital and its parent company will learn from these lawsuits and foster a culture of quality, respect, and honest dealings with their patients.”

“The Department of Justice is committed to protecting patients and taxpayers by ensuring that the treatment provided to federal healthcare beneficiaries is reasonable, necessary, and free from illegal inducements,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ethan P. Davis for the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Division. “The Department will continue to be especially vigilant when vulnerable patient populations are involved, like those served by behavioral healthcare providers.”

The More the Merrier: Multiple Whistleblowers Broaden the Scope of the Case

Had Ms. Parent-Leonard’s been the only case filed, the government’s investigation likely would have been limited to a single hospital in Michigan. But by the time she filed her lawsuit in late 2018, fifteen other qui tam relators in other parts of the country had filed False Claims Act cases with similar allegations.

This settlement demonstrates the combined might that private citizens have as whistleblowers. Had just one or two employees reported their concerns, this misconduct would likely have continued at the other facilities. Because eighteen whistleblowers came forward, the DOJ secured a comprehensive settlement that will improve psychiatric care for thousands of patients nationwide.

Under the False Claims Act, only the first-filed relator is entitled to a share of the government’s recovery. As the sixteenth-filed relator, Ms. Parent-Leonard would have to show that she had brought claims that none of the fifteen relators before her had identified in their complaints.

We argued that in this unusual case, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Each of the other relators had knowledge about just one or two facilities that they had worked at. Therefore, no relator had adequately pled a nationwide scheme so as to be entitled to the entire relator’s share. 

After months of hard-fought negotiations, we were able to secure a share for Ms. Parent-Leonard equal to the fourth-filed relator, who had filed her case more than five years earlier.

We are grateful to Ms. Parent-Leonard for choosing our firm and having the courage to file this case. We congratulate the teams of attorneys and investigators at the DOJ and U.S. Attorney’s Office that investigated UHS and its various facilities. 

Special thanks to Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Townshend of the Western District of Michigan, who met with us the very day the government reopened after an extended shutdown, in the middle of a bomb cyclone.

The case is captioned United States ex rel. Parent-Leonard v. Forest View Psychiatric Hospital, et al., 1:18-cv-1426 (W.D. Mich.).