Launches Operation SAFE to further protect elders and Californians living in skilled nursing facilities in response to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the expansion of the department’s existing program to protect California’s most vulnerable citizens and safeguard the state’s Medicaid program (Medi-Cal). In response to significant increases in Medi-Cal enrollment and the increased need to protect elders and nursing home residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, Attorney General Becerra has directed additional resources toward the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse and has elevated the bureau to a full-fledged division, now called the Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (DMFEA). DMFEA will continue its mission of investigating and prosecuting fraud committed against the Medi-Cal program as well as physical or financial abuse or neglect of elders and dependents in care facilities statewide. As part of this effort, Attorney General Becerra today announced the launch of Operation SAFE (Stop Abuse and Fraud of Elders), an initiative aimed at further protecting elders and Californians living in skilled nursing facilities during the pandemic.
“All too often, California’s elder citizens and those with disabilities are the principal targets of bad actors. That’s why we have allocated additional resources towards establishing the California Department of Justice’s new Division of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse. DMFEA will build upon our previous success aggressively protecting our state’s most vulnerable citizens against fraud, abuse and neglect,” said Attorney General Becerra. “In keeping with this spirit, DMFEA is launching Operation SAFE, a new initiative to ensure that care facilities funded by Medi-Cal are doing their part to keep our loved ones safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, DMFEA is launching Operation SAFE, an initiative to protect residents in California’s skilled nursing facilities by investigating complaints of abuse or fraud. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a tragic toll on our elderly population, with the LA Times reporting that approximately 34% of COVID-related deaths have occurred in nursing homes. Given that the most vulnerable victims of COVID-19 are the elderly and infirm, much effort has been made to avoid exposing this population to the ravages of the pandemic. While the motivation behind these efforts is well-intentioned, attempts to insulate the elderly from exposure may result in more isolation for those in the facility setting, leaving them more dependent on those facilities to provide appropriate care and more vulnerable to abuse and fraud. Through Operation SAFE, a multi-disciplinary team, including agents and medical professionals, will conduct unannounced visits to Medi-Cal funded skilled nursing facilities to investigate complaints of abuse and fraud. Operation SAFE seeks to hold accountable those who abuse and neglect the state’s elderly and vulnerable populations during the pandemic.
Nationally recognized for its innovative and cutting-edge approach to law enforcement, DMFEA is the State of California’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and collaborates closely with federal, state, and local partners to fulfill its mission. DMFEA aggressively pursues criminals who are directly or indirectly involved in filing false claims for medical services, drugs, or supplies. It also pursues hundreds of entities every year for unlawful acts constituting fraud under the California False Claims Act and other key statutes. Based on government and private studies, and on the hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud that DMFEA recovers in a single year, it is estimated that the amount stolen from Californians through Medi-Cal fraud could reach billions of dollars annually. DMFEA also works to protect patients in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities from abuse or neglect. Currently, about 110,000 Californians live in approximately 1,300 licensed nursing homes, and about 150,000 live in approximately 7,500 licensed residential care facilities for the elderly. These numbers are likely to grow, as California’s elderly population is expected to increase to 6.4 million by 2025.
In its new capacity as a Division, DMFEA will continue to build on its previous successes in safeguarding the State's Medi-Cal program. Examples of recent Medi-Cal fraud cases include:
DMFEA will also continue to prosecute crimes against elders and dependent adults committed by employees in care facilities. These crimes include physical abuse, homicide, sexual assault, false imprisonment, assault and battery. Examples of recent criminal abuse cases include: