Kendall Warden, Class of 2024, Belmont Law
In health law section news, the American Bar Association reported that Connecticut-based Athena Health Care Systems is facing major trouble. The organization is facing a myriad of grievances from all sides of the business: complaints from three New England states over nursing home conditions and failure to pay staff, lawsuits from six staffing agencies alleging almost $150,000 in owed wages, a separate suit alleging Athena owes more than $2 million to a different staffing agency, the largest fine ever issued in Massachusetts – $1.75 million – and over 500 complaints in Connecticut alone in less than a year.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have placed Athena Health Care Systems under scrutiny after consistently receiving complaints regarding nursing home conditions in each state. Athena runs over forty long-term care facilities in the region, accounts for approximately 70% of nursing home residents in Connecticut alone and may now be running afoul of complying with Medicare or Medicaid compliance standards.
Six temporary staffing agencies sued Athena for allegedly failing to pay almost $150,000 in wages for the employees the staffing agencies provided to offset employee shortages during the pandemic. A separate staffing agency filed suit against Athena claiming over $2 million for temporary employees the company provided to Athena. A further lawsuit has been filed against Athena by an insurance company, “alleging that Athena, a self-insured company, has failed to pay more than $6 million in health insurance claims from its employees.” Such claims caused state officials to contact the U.S Department of Labor to begin an investigation.
The Massachusetts Attorney General’s office saddled Athena with the largest fine ever issued in the state because the organization was caught admitting residents with substance abuse issues without the ability to provide necessary and appropriate treatment. This practice by Athena apparently led to numerous overdoses. Furthermore, several consent orders have been issued to address staffing issues and patient safety concerns such as unsanitary conditions.
Alarmingly, Athena is also facing a wrongful death suit after a resident in one of the organization’s Massachusetts nursing homes was murdered in the facility. The decedent’s roommate slammed his walker against the decedent’s head repeatedly before staff intervened, eventually leading to his death.
Regarding the 518 complaints received by Athena, several report residents being forced to remain in wet undergarments, missing meals, not receiving appropriate medications, and being stuck in bed, among others. Lack of access to care to is the most common complaint received by Athena Health Care Systems. These complaints most definitely stem from the organization being highly understaffed.
In response to complaints, lawsuits, and fines, Athena’s owner, “Lawrence Santilli, acknowledged the company has had financial difficulties that have ‘undermined the quality of care’ in some facilities. ‘For Athena, which serves thousands of patients daily across its 45 facilities with thousands of employees, these unprecedented challenges and expenses and the resulting severe staffing shortages have resulted in significantly higher expenses and have put a strain on resources,’ Santilli said in an emailed statement” to the CT Mirror.
In an attempt to change course, Athena hired a registered nurse to submit reports to the Department of Public Health for a minimum of six months. The organization also halted admissions in an effort to resolve staffing and resource shortages.