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Florida nursing home MorseLife pays $1.7 million after giving donors early access to covid vaccines

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The text message from the CEO of MorseLife Health System, a luxury nursing home in West Palm Beach, Florida, was unequivocal.

“Of course, go after the billionaires first,” the CEO said. wrote to facility fundraisers in December 2020, explaining who should get priority for the scarce coronavirus vaccines intended for residents and employees.

He advised: “Don’t be weak, be strong, you have the opportunity to take advantage of everyone who needs the injection and find out what they have and what we can go after…”.

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“I’ll go for the billions,” he promised.

Eighteen months later, MorseLife agreed to pay $1.75 million to settle claims that it defrauded a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program that sought to target limited doses of vaccines to the most vulnerable Americans in late 2020 and early 2021. according to the Department of Justice. who posted excerpts from the text messages. The government does not name the chief executive, which is customary, but MorseLife records identify him as Keith Myers, who recently received annual compensation of about $1.5 million, according to a tax return. Myers did not respond to emails, text messages and a phone call seeking comment.

A MorseLife spokeswoman, Rebecca Houck, released a statement saying, “MorseLife strongly denies the allegations brought by the government, but decided to settle this matter to avoid the expense and distraction of lengthy litigation.”

The Washington Post revealed in January of last year that the center had targeted the vaccine doses intended for residents and staff of long-term care facilities to wealthy donors and board members. Several people who did not live at the facility, a nonprofit organization that promises a “five-star lifestyle for seniors,” described being vaccinated at the invitation of the CEO. “He asked me if I wanted to get vaccinated,” said one donor. “I am one of the people who has given him some money.”

Houck did not address follow-up questions about what the donors told The Post or the evidence cited in the government statement.

After the revelations of The Post, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) ordered the state’s chief inspector general to conduct an investigation in conjunction with the state health department. People familiar with the case said agents from the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s office also began conducting interviews.

Justice Department officials said Thursday that the case demonstrated the consequences for those who abuse “vital pandemic relief programs for their own financial gain.”

“This specific vaccination program was designed to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the nation at a critical time when the COVID-19 pandemic was devastating that population,” said Brian M. Boynton, chief of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice, in a press release. statement on the agreement.

The Justice Department said MorseLife made it easier to vaccinate ineligible people by falsely characterizing them as nursing home employees and volunteers. In total, 567 of the 976 people vaccinated at a clinic on Dec. 31, 2020, were not eligible to receive the shots under federal nursing home program guidelines, according to the Justice Department. At that time, older residents of MorseLife facilities and caregivers had not yet received the shooting, his relatives told The Post last year, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation against family members.

It was not immediately clear if Florida authorities are still investigating. Although states had broad authority over eligibility in the early phases of the vaccination campaign, the program for long-term care facilities is administered by the federal government, which contracted with pharmacies to prioritize immunizations for people most at risk. of coronavirus infection. The Justice Department said MorseLife’s misuse of the doses exposed it to liability under the False Claims Act.

Myers appears to have retained his role as the facility’s CEO, based on his LinkedIn profile and recent statements. LeadingAge Florida, a Tallahassee-based industry group, identified him as a “friend” in a cheep on Thursday expressing praise for MorseLife.

The Post reported last year that many of the donors who received the first shots at MorseLife were members of the Palm Beach Country Club. The club’s then-founding chairman, David S. Mack, a New Jersey real estate developer, and his brother Bill, also a real estate mogul, “helped” MorseLife with its vaccination campaign, a spokesman said at the time.

David Mack is also a vice chairman of the MorseLife board, according to tax filings. The Justice Department release did not name Mack, but said the board’s vice president “and his brother” were allowed “to invite approximately 290 people to the vaccination clinic, none of whom lived or worked on the New York campus.” MorseLife and most of whom did not volunteer on the MorseLife campus and had no prior affiliation with MorseLife.”

“A significant number of these guests were members of the same country club as the vice president and his brother, and some of the guests flew to Florida just to get vaccinated at the clinic,” the statement said.

A MorseLife Foundation strategy document cited by the Department of Justice stated that “[t]his group was ‘recruited’ by [vice chairman and his brother] and I owe them allegiance at least as much as they owe us.”

The document outlined plans to “use that loyalty to effectively extract significant gifts from that group in a short period of time.”

The Mack brothers, through a spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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