Denver’s InnovAge was struggling long before Medicare stopped paying

A company tasked with caring for some of Colorado’s sickest people failed to consistently provide basic services like insulin injections for more than a year before state and federal authorities intervened, as its profit-driven leaders recruited more clients than they could handle, former employees allege.

The Denver Post spoke to seven former employees and board members of InnovAge, a Denver-based elder care provider, and reviewed hundreds of pages of lawsuits, federal inspection reports and whistleblower complaints. All painted a picture of an organization so focused on growth that it continued signing up new people — including some homeless Denver residents who didn’t qualify — while struggling to serve clients it already had.

The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing announced in December that it would no longer pay for InnovAge to care for new clients covered by Medicaid in the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, which offers services meant to keep people out of nursing homes. Federal officials made a similar decision for patients covered by Medicare.

The roughly 3,500 clients InnovAge had as of December as the only PACE provider for much of the Front Range can continue to receive services, and the company can submit a correction plan to be reinstated in Medicare and Medicaid, though it hadn’t done so as of the end of June.

The state and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said an audit had found staffing problems and that InnovAge didn’t provide all services that its clients needed, as the PACE program requires. They haven’t released the full audit results, but other publicly available documents and interviews with former employees showed clients didn’t get basic wound care, and some were left in their beds for 16 hours at a time.

PACE is for people 55 and older who would qualify for the level of care provided in a nursing home, but who also could safely stay at home if they had enough support. Providers such as InnovAge have to coordinate medical, dental and eye care, as well as services like transportation to appointments, respite for caregivers and home health care.

For a long time, InnovAge was effective in allowing people with dementia and other significant health problems to remain at home as long as possible, said Dr. Alan Lazaroff, one of its founders. The pursuit of higher returns changed that, he said.

“It doesn’t seem right to me that you could convert this into a profit-making machine on these frail elderly people’s backs,” said Lazaroff, who resigned from the board after disagreements with CEO Maureen Hewitt, who took the top job in 2007.

Sarah Rasmussen, a spokeswoman for InnovAge, said the company couldn’t comment on “active legal proceedings.”

“The health and well-being of our participants is our top priority and we continue to actively work with regulatory agencies to ensure we fully address any audit findings,” she said.

Client went without insulin, wound care

Almost all of InnovAge’s business comes from PACE, though it also has senior housing complexes in Aurora and Thornton. It runs six centers in Colorado, where…

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