News

Baker Donelson, Ober|Kaler to Combine

The law firms of Baker Donelson and Ober|Kaler have announced plans to join forces effective Jan. 1. Ober|Kaler is a national law firm with health, litigation, business, construction and finance practice areas. The firm has more than 110 attorneys with headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland, and offices in Washington, D.C., and Falls Church, Virginia. The combined firm will maintain the name of Baker Donelson. It will be one of the 50 largest law firms in the country and the third largest health practice in the country.

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Tennessee Hosting 4 Equal Justice Works Fellows

Tennessee is benefiting from the services of four Equal Justice Works fellows. It is the first time in more than 10 years that the state has had any fellows, according to the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS). That group is hosting Kirsten Jacobson in its office. Elder Justice Fellow Matt Schwimmer is serving with West Tennessee Legal Services in Jackson. Elder Justice Fellow Sara Dodson is serving with the Tennessee Justice Center in Nashville. And Immigrant Defense Fellow Valeria Gomez is working with Justice AmeriCorps and VIDA in Knoxville. TALS credits the work of the state Supreme Court, which has made pro bono a strategic priority, and the support of the state’s legal aid providers in making these fellowships a reality.

Photo from left: Jacobson, Gomez, Schwimmer, Dodson

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Volunteers Needed for Veterans’ Clinic

Volunteers are needed for a Veterans’ Legal Advice Clinic scheduled for Nov. 2 from noon to 2 p.m. in Knoxville. The clinic is one of several planned by a group of legal organizations in the city, including the Knoxville Bar Association, the Knoxville Barristers, Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Knox County Public Defender’s Office, the University of Tennessee College of Law and the local Veterans's Affairs office. It will take place at the Knox County Public Defender’s Community Law Office, 1101 Liberty St.

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Training Offered to Help Lawyers Help Veterans

The University of Tennessee College of Law will hold a two-hour training session on Nov. 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. EST for those interested in learning more about volunteering at a Project Salute event or assisting veterans with legal issues in any setting. A “meet and greet” will follow the program. Register online.

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Disability Rights Group Presents Freedom Awards

Disability Rights Tennessee awarded its 2016 Freedom Awards at the Third Annual Disability Employment Awareness Luncheon last week in Nashville. Joey Hassell, an assistant commissioner for special populations in the Tennessee Department of Education, was recognized for implementing a holistic approach to aligning services for all students. Martie Lafferty was honored for 13 years of service with DRT, including her work as the organization's legal director. During her time with the organization, Lafferty won cases that granted access to Tennessee courts and Medicaid waiver services for thousands and ensured equal access to health care for Tennesseans who are deaf and hard of hearing. Lafferty is now a litigator at the Washington, D.C., civil rights firm Stein & Vargas.

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Life Care Centers to Pay $145M in False Claims Case

Tennessee-based Life Care Centers of America Inc. and its owner, Forrest L. Preston, have agreed to pay $145 million to resolve a government lawsuit alleging that the company violated the False Claims Act by knowingly causing skilled nursing facilities to submit false claims for rehabilitation therapy services that were not reasonable, necessary and/or skilled, the Department of Justice announced today. The news follows an announcement by the department earlier this month that a settlement had been reached in the case. It is now one of the largest settlements with a skilled nursing facility chain in the department’s history, and the largest civil False Claims Act settlement in the Eastern District of Tennessee. Chattanoogan.com has the latest.

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New TBA Health Law Chair Takes Reins of Group

At the TBA’s 28th Annual Health Law Forum, taking place this weekend in Franklin, outgoing Health Law Section chair and Waller attorney Denise Burke passed the reins of the group and the ceremonial “Section Cup” to Brian Roark, a lawyer in the Nashville office of Bass Berry & Sims. Roark heads the Healthcare Fraud Task Force at the firm and helps clients with governmental investigations and litigation. He also serves as an adjunct professor of law at Vanderbilt University where he teaches a course on health care fraud and abuse.

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Elder Law Programs Now Online

If you missed the TBA's annual Elder Law forum, the courses are now available online. Sessions focused on ABLE TN (a program that helps disabled individuals save for their health care), federal issues related to elder law, emergency conservatorships and a panel addressing TennCare. Watch one or all four!

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Free TennCare Training Offered Oct. 24-25

Lawyers interested in learning more about handling TennCare cases are invited to attend a web-based training session hosted by the Tennessee Justice Center. Topics include how the Affordable Care Act affects Tennesseans, navigating the TennCare process and using work-arounds to address complex issues. On Monday, Oct. 24, the webinar will run from 1 to 5 p.m. On Tuesday, Oct. 25, the webinar will run from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Please register for each day if you plan to attend both. Review the program agenda.

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Widely Regarded Health Law Program Kicks off Next Week

One of the nation's largest health law programs kicks off next week in Franklin with more than 400 attorneys expected. The Health Law Primer, intended as an introductory program, will provide a general health law overview and discussion of hot topics by experienced healthcare leaders on Wednesday. The 28th Annual Health Law Forum follows on Thursday and Friday. Speakers will cover a wide range of topics including fraud and abuse, practitioner assistance programs, ethics, medical staffing issues and 2016 Tennessee health law and legislative updates. All events will take place at the Embassy Suites Hotel.

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Services Thursday for Lawyer, Artist Kaaren Engel

A celebration of the life of Kaaren Hirschowitz Engel, who died last week, will be Thursday at East Park, 700 Woodland St., Nashville, from 2 to 4 p.m. She was 55. A graduate of Emory University Law School, Engel practiced corporate health law before focusing her career on creative ventures. She was an artist and author, who practiced and taught yoga and meditation. Learn more about her in this recent profile from Nashville Arts Magazine.

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Government Reaches Settlement in Suits Against Life Care, Preston

The Chattanoogan reports that the federal government has reached a settlement in the False Claims Act case against Cleveland Tenn.-based Life Care Centers, as well as in a separate suit against company chairman Forrest Preston. Claims in the case, in which the private nursing home company was accused of overbilling the government, amount to $1.8 billion. The separate suit against Preston alleges that he “unjustly enriched” himself through unfounded claims for government reimbursement. Life Care owns facilites in 28 states, including 20 locations in Tennessee.
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HHS Prohibits Forced Arbitration by Nursing Homes

The federal Department of Health and Human Services today issued a new rule that will prohibit long-term care facilities that accept Medicare or Medicaid from forcing residents into arbitration. Nursing homes and patients can still enter into arbitration if they choose, but contracts may not be written to automatically compel both parties into arbitration. The rule is part of a major revamp of consumer protections at long-term care facilities, Consumerist reports. The rule will go into effect Nov. 28 and have no effect on the “enforceability of existing pre-dispute arbitration agreements” according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

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State’s Mental Health Chief to Retire

Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Commissioner Doug Varney will retire Oct. 21, Gov. Bill Haslam announced today. Varney has served as commissioner since 2011. Also today, Haslam announced the appointments of 176 Tennesseans to 75 boards and commissions.

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Mental Health Court to Hit Milestone

The Washington County Mental Health Court will soon mark 10 years of service and 57 graduates, WCYB reports. General Sessions Judge James Nidiffer, who oversees the court, said, “We’ve had some success, great success I think, in helping these individuals not be criminalized just because of their mental illness …” He noted that the court has saved dozens of people from going to jail, and that he still fields calls from other judges in the state interested in starting their own mental health court.

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Hotel Deadline Near for 28th Annual Health Law Forum

If you attend the 28th Annual Health Law Forum Oct. 20-21 in Franklin, you will hear from leading private practitioners on topics including practitioner assistance programs, medical staffing issues and fair market value issues in physician acquisitions and divestitures, among others. If you are travelling from out of town, be sure to contact the Embassy Suites at 615-515-5151 by Friday to secure the special TBA group room rate.

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PD: Inmates Wait too Long for Mental Health Care

People detained at the Shelby County Jail are waiting an “extraordinary” amount of time for state treatment of serious mental illness, Shelby County’s chief public defender says in a letter to state officials. Referencing a “crisis” in admissions from the jail to state hospitals, Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush said in a letter to the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services that he is “shocked” by the delay for people who are court-ordered for treatment at the Western Mental Health Institute in Bolivar. The Commercial Appeal has more on the issue.

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Blue Cross Pulls out of Insurance Exchange in 3 Cities

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee will not sell insurance plans on the federal exchange in the state’s three largest metro areas next year, the Tennessean reported today. The healthcare giant is grappling with hefty losses and ongoing uncertainty in the marketplace, despite winning state approval to increase its rates. The decision means that consumers in Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville will have to look to another insurer for coverage in 2017. The paper estimates the decision will impact nearly 115,000 people.

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Report: Opioid Lobby Spends Big in Tennessee

Tennessee politicians received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions over the past decade from pharmaceutical companies and other members of the Pain Care Forum, a coalition that meets monthly to discuss opioid-related issues, according to an investigation by the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity. The groups examined the industry’s influence at statehouses around the nation. About $560,000 went to Tennessee state candidates and state political parties, and more than $1 million went to those running for federal office, the study found. The Tennessean has a breakdown of giving.

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New Justice Center to Include Mental Health Unit

With demolition work being done at the former Davidson County Criminal Justice Center, the county sheriff is sharing plans to include a mental health unit in the new jail. “You wouldn’t be booked, you wouldn’t be charged criminally,” Daron Hall said. Plans call for a 64-bed facility to house those arrested for misdemeanor charges and flagged during a mental health evaluation, News Channel 5 reports. About $10 million from the project’s overall $113 million budget was set aside for the mental health unit. The center is expected to open in 2019.

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Disability Law CLE Videos Now Available

If you missed the TBA’s Annual Disability Law Forum, the sessions are now available online. Presentations cover client consultations, ADA accessibility and effective communication, and ethics for the disability law practioner. Check them out today!

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Nursing Home Operator Accused of Fraud

Vanguard Healthcare, a Brentwood-based skilled nursing and rehab company that earlier this year filed for bankruptcy, is now facing a False Claims Act lawsuit from the federal government. According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee, six Vanguard facilities across the state and a former director of operations are accused of submitting false claims to Medicare and TennCare using forged physician and nurse signatures. The Nashville Business Journal reports.

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Jury Awards Almost $19M to Nashville Healthcare Company

A Nashville jury recently awarded $18.8 million to SpecialtyCare, a healthcare provider of neurophysiologic monitoring services. The award included $16 million in punitive damages and $2.8 million for lost profits. The jury found that SpecialtyCare competitor Medsurant LLC interfered with the assets of ProNerve, which was acquired by SpecialtyCare in 2015, and intentionally destroyed and concealed records in order to avoid liability. The Nashville Business Journal has more on the case.

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Tennessee Gets Federal Funds to Fight Opioid Use

Tennessee is set to receive federal money to improve opioid overdose awareness and track overdose death rates and providers’ prescribing habits, the Tennessean reports. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is distributing $53 million to states that applied through a competitive grant process.

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State Dems Want Hearing on Insurance Rates

Tennessee Democratic lawmakers are calling for a public hearing on the state’s decision to approve increases for some health insurance plans by as much as 62 percent. They say Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak has not done enough to show the increases are needed to keep the health insurance market afloat, Nashville Public Radio reports. McPeak blamed flaws in the Affordable Care Act for the increase. But Democrat Sen. Jeff Yarbro questioned why Tennessee is doing so much worse than everyone else. “Why are our rates going up higher and faster than every country — every other state in the country?” Some say it is because the state has not expanded its Medicaid program to include the sickest residents, leaving them in the general insurance pool.

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