Chicago doc “king of nursing homes” convicted of Medicare fraud and kickbacks

A federal jury Œconvicted a Chicago doctor called the “king of nursing homes” for referring elderly patients to a financially struggling hospital on Chicago’s West Side as part of a kickback scheme. Dr. Venkateswara Kuchipudi became the fifth physician and 10th defendant overall to be convicted for taking part in the Medicare and Medicaid fraud scheme at the now-closed Sacred Heart Hospital for 12 years. Doctors referred patients to the hospital in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks disguised as office rent, teaching fees, and other bogus payments, prosecutors charged.

Sentencing will be in June. Jurors found Kuchipudi guilty on one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and nine counts of illegally soliciting or receiving benefits in return for referrals of patients covered under a federal health care program, said Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago. The arrangement kept patients coming to the hospital despite its location in a high-crime neighborhood as well as its limited emergency services, short-staff on nights and weekends, and lack of access at those hours to routine procedures such as X-rays or lab work, prosecutors said.

Sacred Heart administrators referred to Kuchipudi as the “king of nursing homes” for his alleged prowess in bringing elderly patients to the hospital. He routinely had patients taken to Sacred Heart from as far as 25 miles away, often bypassing hospitals that offered better care, prosecutors alleged.

The Government alleged Kuchipudi knew many of his patients had dementia or other mental health problems but had no real reason to be admitted to the hospital. But his order for direct admission meant they were able to bypass the evaluation of emergency room doctors and be admitted at least overnight, allowing him to bill Medicare at a higher rate, they said.

Prosecutors alleged Kuchipudi had been aware of problems at the hospital for years. For example, in fall 2009, shortly after Kuchipudi obtained privileges at Sacred Heart, the hospital had a fly infestation, prosecutors said.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers.