ROME, GA - A man who conspired with his wife to defraud the Medicare and Georgia Medicaid programs by billing them for "worthless services" in the operation of three nursing homes was sentenced today to 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
George D. Houser, 64, was convicted after a bench trial in April.
Federal officials stated that Houser kept an unsanitary, filthy, rodent and insect infested homes that were under staffed.
Medicare and Medicaid paid Houser more than $32.9 million between July 2004 and September 2007 for food, medical care, and other services for nursing home residents, according to federal prosecutors.
"Criminals don't need to be lip readers to get this message. Provide horrendous care, while at the same time wallowing in luxury, and you will be punished--severely,"Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General for the Atlanta region, stated in a press release. "Working with other law enforcement agencies, we will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute these taxpayer-funded, worthless services cases."
During the trial, evidence indicated that a shortage of staff started when Houser began writing bad paychecks to his employees, which resulted in staff resignations. Houser also withheld health insurance payments to his workers, leaving many with unpaid medical bills.
The roof at two of the nursing homes were so leaky that employees used 55-gallon barrels and plastic sheeting to catch and divert the rainwater. The leaks got worse over time but Houser never replaced the roofs or repaired or replaced broken air conditioning and heating units, according to prosecutors.
Also fiberglass ceilings tiles would become saturated with water until they fell out of the ceiling, occasionally on residents' beds. The residents kept their windows open to vent the foul odors in the homes, but flies and other insects along with rodents easily entered the homes through ill-fitting screens and doors.
The insect problems was made worse by mounds of rotting garbage, which piled up around the dumpster near the homes because Houser failed to pay the trash collection services.
The moisture and humidity in the homes resulted in mold and mildew growth, according to federal officials.
Houser also failed to pay vendors which lead to food suppliers and vendors of pharmacy and clinical laboratory services, medical waste disposal, trash disposal and nursing supplies stopping their goods and services, say federal authorities.
The nursing home suffered continuous food shortages, and employees spent their own money to buy milk, bread and other groceries so that residents didn't starve,federal prosecutors allege. Also employees bought nursing supplies and cleaning supplies for the residents, and some took the residents laundry to laundromats or their own homes to be cleaned.
The homes' workers were rarely reimbursed by Houser for buying supplies, according to federal authorities.
One nursing home resident testified in court that residents used to pass the time by making bets on which service or utility would be cut off for nonpayment.
Houser's wife, Rhonda Washington Houser, pleaded guilty to felony medical care fraud in December 2011, and her sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.