Cover Story

The Great Brain Injury Scam

Brain injury survivor Lucy Gwin: “That’s when the vultures came.”

      After several weeks, a sympathetic staff member warned Gwin that New Medico planned to send her for psychosurgery for "seizures" she never had. In desperation, she called a friend who lived nearby. The next day, amidst threats from facility staff and warnings she was insane, that friend carried Gwin out of the facility.

      Despite the widely held contentions of psychiatrists and psychologists behind brain injury rehab, survivors like Lucy Gwin do remember the abuse they suffer. Indeed -- and unfortunately for New Medico -- the memories of Gwin and other patients are crystal clear.

      "Most of us believe that when people are hurt, no one would take advantage of them," says Gwin, who now works as a journalist in New York. "Wrong. That's when the vultures come."

      Gwin said that during her three-week stay, patients spent their days sitting "outside at picnic tables, smoking." When she confronted the staff about their physical abuse of other patients, she was put in a "baskethold," a restraint similar to a Full Nelson wrestling hold, leaving the patient completely immobile. "It's one of the most evil things you can do to a person," said Gwin. "It's terrifying."

      Her insurance was billed for substance abuse treatment even though she didn't have a substance abuse problem. Incredibly, New Medico, the largest chain of rehabilitation facilities in the U.S. at the time, justified the billings on the basis that the driver who hit Gwin was a drunk. New Medico billed Gwin's insurance $10,000 U.S. for seven days of treatment.

      Charges against New Medico, covered in a congressional report entitled "Fraud and Abuse in the Head Injury Rehabilitation Industry," included, "inappropriate care, fraudulent billings, misleading marketing practices and the use of non-skilled workers." Other allegations included "unethical recruitment of patients, virtually non-existent medical treatment, falsifying treatment records to show improvement to families, referral fees paid to hospital personnel and patient quota."

      The congressional probe heard that New Medico was charging $2,000 per patient per day, which were hospital rates for nursing home services worth only a maximum of $200 a day, according to the testimony of former New Medico medical director Dr. Kenneth Hoelscher.

The Great Brain Injury Scam continued ...

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