McKnights reported on the ongoing saga between National Health Corp. and one of its former nurse leaders, Mary Lea Byrd. In 2012, she filed a complaint, alleging that NHC violated the False Claims Act in numerous ways. Byrd has now filed an amended complaint, alleging that the skilled nursing provider illegally retaliated against her whistleblowing actions, eventually forcing her to resign. National Health Corp. — whose affiliates operate 76 skilled nursing centers — had moved to dismiss the complaint, because they believe it was barred by the three-year statute of limitations for violations of the False Claims Act.
In her original complaint, Byrd — who was hired as a director of nursing at a Farragut, TN, SNF in 1998 — alleged that NHC required patients to bring medication from home, upcoded claims, billed for services not rendered, and kept patients on services when they no longer qualified for skilled care. She alleges that, after she surfaced those allegations, NHC retaliated in various ways on at least five separate occasions, increasing pressure on her to quit. In September 2017, she felt she had “no choice but to resign,” giving her 30-day notice.
After the case was unsealed in 2017, Byrd filed an amended complaint, naming “National Health Corp.” rather than the original NHC. Those two are affiliated related entities, with common ownership and common control to the national for-profit chain. National Health Corp. argued that its access to a copy of the original complaint was not enough to make it aware that this particular retaliation claim had been filed, a contention with which a U.S. District Court of Eastern District of Tennessee judge disagreed last week.
“To say that an organization so closely intertwined with another would not be aware of ongoing litigation arising from a FCA claim is, at best, a stretch,” wrote Judge Pamela L. Reeves.