A Florida hospice chain prodded its sales reps to sneak into hospitals and nursing homes in search of terminally ill patients at the height of the coronavirus pandemic — even if it meant falsely posing as staff, a new lawsuit claims.
Vitas Healthcare of Miami improperly declared its sales staffers “essential” to get around government-ordered lockdowns — and then sent them to scour for new business in ways that endangered the health of both staffers and patients, according to a class-action complaint filed in California state court by a Bay Area sales rep.
Vitas, nation’s biggest for-profit hospice chain, knew that its sales reps could be turned away, so it “openly encouraged sales representatives to skirt entry checkpoints at hospitals by posing as hospital employees,” the lawsuit claims.
It also urged staffers to take selfies with health-care administrators on their visits and send them to their colleagues, the complaint says. That resulted in pictures with patients and at least one doctor on sales calls they likely could have made over the phone, according to the lawsuit and photos shared with The Post.
One photo shared by Kay Van Wey, a lawyer handling the case, allegedly shows a staffer bragging in a text message about sneaking boxes of donuts into a facility that had banned outside food.
Vitas, which makes much of its money on taxpayer-funded programs like Medicaid, was encouraging this behavior despite pleas from vulnerable nursing homes and other health-care centers to keep nonessential staff away, the suit alleges.
The company’s actions were also in “direct violation” of orders by Bay Area health officials, who asked that essential companies only have employees report to work if they couldn’t perform their jobs at home, the suit says.
“Worse still, sales representatives were instructed to visit multiple facilities in the course of a day, increasing the amount of potential exposure for patients and healthcare workers,” the complaint reads.
The suit is specific to California, but the lawyers involved say they are concerned that Vitas may have engaged in similar tactics in other parts of the country. The company serves more than 19,000 patients in 14 states and the District of Columbia.
“We believe that this is all about money,” Van Wey told The Post. “The sales reps that were asked or forced to violate the safety orders were not providing essential services.”
The June 9 lawsuit was brought by Kristina Eisenacher, a Vitas representative in northern California who accused the company of retaliating against her after she complained about its practices.
Vitas did not address Eisenacher’s specific situation. But the company said its representatives are essential because they ensure health-care providers and their patients can access hospice care.
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