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Former Mt. Lebanon Nursing Home Administrator Indicted On Federal Fraud, Conspiracy Charges

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Julie Bennett
/
AP
About half of COVID-19 deaths in Pennsylvania have occurred in nursing homes.

A federal grand jury has indicted the former administrator of a local nursing home, alleging that the administrator directed employees to over-report their work hours in order to satisfy federal staffing requirements.

Susan Gilbert carried out the alleged fraud at the Mt. Lebanon Rehabilitation and Wellness Center between October 2018 and February 2020, according to statements from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Western Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.

“These crimes put facility residents at risk by only providing a dangerously low amount of nursing staff just before COVID began to surge across the country,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in the statements.

“By filing these false reports,” he said, “the facility met minimum staffing levels only on paper — while Pennsylvanians who depended on them to care for their well-being didn’t have enough people to turn to.”

The statements said that Mt. Lebanon Rehabilitation and Wellness Center is part of the same ownership structure as Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, along with other long-term care facilities in the state.

The Brighton nursing home, located in Beaver County, has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus. About 380 of residents at the 590-bed facility have contracted the virus, and 76 have died, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The 120-bed home in Mt. Lebanon, meanwhile, has reported 67 COVID-19 cases and fewer than five deaths among residents. (When the number of deaths at a facility is below five, the health department redacts the precise figure.)

Federal and state authorities searched both nursing homes in September as part of a criminal investigation into the homes’ handling of the virus. The Brighton facility was sued in October by residents and the families of deceased residents.

The three-count indictment announced Thursday accuses Gilbert, a resident of Washington County, of conspiring to defraud the United States, committing health care fraud, and obstructing a federal audit.

Gilbert is accused of telling employees to clock in for shifts that they did not actually work and not to clock out when they took 30-minute lunch breaks. The facility also provided inflated staffing data to the state Department of Health, according to law-enforcement officials.

In addition, the officials said in their statements Thursday, administrative staff kept two sets of staffing records, one that was accurate and another that indicated the home had higher staffing levels. During federally mandated state inspections, the statements said, the nursing home administration gave falsified staffing documents to investigators.

Staff members at the nursing home declined to comment Thursday.

In a statement announcing the indictment against Gilbert, the Pittsburgh-based United States Attorney, Scott Brady, said, “These criminal charges represent the first step in holding accountable those who put profit over the health and safety of seniors,” 

“We will continue to pursue every lead until justice has been achieved for seniors and their families in western Pennsylvania,” he said.

Shapiro, the state attorney general, noted in an interview that "several criminal investigations [are] ongoing" at nursing homes across the state. The inquiry into Mt. Lebanon Rehabilitation and Wellness Center "is one piece of a much larger puzzle," he said.

"There will be more charges to come," he added, "which I think will paint a much clearer picture to families and to residents of this Commonwealth as to what was going on in the run-up to COVID and during COVID in these nursing homes across Pennsylvania."

The attorney general encouraged the public to report crimes that might have taken place at nursing homes by emailing neglect-COVID@attorneygeneral.gov.

*This story was updated at 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, to include additional comments from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.