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Troubled behavioral healthcare provider faces multiple lawsuits

Connectinos CSP

Connections CSP now faces federal lawsuits over controlled substances and false claims. 

In a civil suit announced Friday, federal prosecutors accuse the large nonprofit medical and behavioral health provider and its corporate officers of violating the Controlled Substances Act — by failing to keep required documentation of distribution of methadone and buprenorphine, which are used to treat opioid use disorder.

The individuals named as defendants are current CEO Bill Northey, Chief Compliance Officer Steven Davis and Catherine Devaney McKay, who was CEO from Connections’ founding in 1985 until 2019.

Prosecutors say during an inspection in 2019, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) found Connections could not provide records identifying the location of more than 244 bottles of methadone and more than 1,100 doses of buprenorphine. They claim further investigation revealed numerous additional citations from DEA at multiple Connections locations and “dozens” of additional violations.

The recordkeeping requirements in the Controlled Substance Act are meant to prevent prescription medications from being diverted for sale or abuse. Each violation carries a penalty of up to around $15,000.

“As one of the largest providers of substance abuse treatment in Delaware, Connections is well aware of the extent of the opioid crisis in our state,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware David Weiss in a statement Friday.  “By failing for years to properly document their distribution and dispensing of controlled substances, Connections and its executives have shirked their responsibility to ensure that they were not contributing to the crisis by creating an environment in which their own inventory of controlled substances could be diverted for abuse or sale.”

Weiss’ office also announced Friday that the federal government has intervened in a 2019 whistleblower lawsuit against Connections in regards to false Medicare and Medicaid claims. Prosecutors allege that between 2015 and 2019, the nonprofit submitted hundreds of thousands of claims in which the qualifications of healthcare providers were falsified, and received more than $4.5 million for services for which it was not entitled to reimbursement.

“Federal healthcare regulations and policies that govern mental health services exist to ensure that Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries are treated by qualified professionals,” said Weiss in a second statement Friday.  “We expect all providers to submit claims that are true, accurate, and complete, and entrust that they will do so.  Connections violated that trust, and in the process, defrauded Medicare and Medicaid out of more than $4.5 million dollars.”

Connections has also been the subject ofnumerous lawsuits by former employees, inmates and a hospital system. It’s been investigatedby the state Dept. of Justice, and the Delaware Department of Correction droppedthe nonprofit as its contracted inmate healthcare provider last year.

But last year the nonprofit also received the largest PPP loan in the state—and secured a contract with the Delaware Department of Substance Abuse and Mental Health for transitional housing.

Connections is also one of 61 participants across the countryreceiving fundingfrom the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services as part of a new initiative called Value in Opioid Use Disorder Treatment. The four-year contract could pay out as much as $3.75 million.

Reached by phone Friday afternoon, a spokesperson for Connections declined to comment.

This story has been updated. 

Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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