Kira Corteville is planning her father’s memorial service.
She’s also planning a lawsuit.
When Corteville learned that the Via Christi HOPE program had been suspended from accepting new clients, one of the examples cited by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services sounded familiar:
A newly enrolled client was assessed as needing a dental appointment. Two months later, he was hospitalized because of a tooth abscess, never having seen a dentist. At the time of the CMS audit, the client was breathing through a ventilator because the infection had become septic, causing respiratory failure.
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It sounded just like Corteville’s father, Wayne Corteville. He died Sept. 10, at 61.
“It all started with these infected teeth,” Kira Corteville said.
Corteville provided The Wichita Eagle with copies of two letters from Via Christi HOPE about her father. The health issues and dates corresponded with the health issues and dates of the man described in the letter from CMS to Via Christi HOPE.
A spokesman for Ascension Health, which owns Via Christi, did not comment on Wayne Corteville.
“We are committed to addressing the findings identified by CMS,” Johnny Smith Jr., senior director of public relations at Ascension, said in an emailed statement. “Our focus remains on providing affordable, accessible and quality care for our participants in this program and for all.”
Smith did not answer questions about what changes Via Christi HOPE is making.
This month, federal regulators ordered Via Christi Outreach for Elders to stop enrollment of new participants in Via Christi HOPE. The program provides comprehensive medical and social services to Sedgwick County seniors and allows most participants to remain at home or with family rather go to a nursing home. Most participants are eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.
The letter cited “severe clinical and operational deficiencies” as well as untreated medical conditions.
CMS said it would closely track complaints from Via Christi participants via 1-800-MEDICARE.
According to CMS, Ascension Health immediately began to “remediate known issues, make organizational changes, and bring in additional clinical resources” after the August audit found “widespread and systemic noncompliance with Federal regulation.”
“As a result, CMS believes that Ascension Health is committed to improving its PACE organization (Via Christi HOPE),” CMS said in an email.
Corteville says she believes her father would still be alive if it weren’t for those deficiencies in Via Christi HOPE. Other clients of the program cite a variety of experiences: One woman loves it, according to her daughter, while another says it hasn’t provided the care she needs.
‘It’s too late’
When Wayne Corteville signed up for the program, he was excited that doctors would come to him. At 555 pounds, it was difficult for him to travel, Kira Corteville said.
Before entering the program, he made clear that he would need dental work, Corteville said. HOPE never made the appointment, and Wayne Corteville was eventually taken to the emergency room, had multiple surgeries and ended up on a ventilator as complications arose.
Kira Corteville called Via Christi HOPE about her concerns prior to her father’s death, and they were filed as a grievance.
In a letter dated Oct. 6, Corteville was told that the chief medical officer investigated and “found Via Christi HOPE administration attempted to locate a dentist outside of contract who was equipped to accommodate Mr. Corteville’s needs. Via Christi HOPE was unable to locate a dentist to accommodate Mr. Cortivelle’s (stet) needs however failed to communicate our efforts to Mr. Corteville or his family.”
If Via Christi HOPE had said that they couldn’t find a dentist, her father would have set up his own appointment, Kira Corteville said.
“There’s nothing that can be remedied now,” Corteville recalled telling a Via Christi HOPE employee on the phone after her father’s death. “There’s nothing you can do for my dad. It’s too late. I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else.”
Waiting for dentures
The letter from CMS that suspended enrollment in Via Christi HOPE noted failure to conduct assessments or provide timely medical intervention for other patients in addition to the man with the tooth infection.
One client who spoke to The Eagle, who asked to be anonymous out of concern for her care, said she was told she needed dentures nearly a year ago, but is only getting them now. She too had a tooth abscess and has had other teeth fall out, she said. She did not speak with CMS auditors when they visited.
The woman said she spends more than $500 out of her roughly $1,200 Social Security disability payment on Via Christi HOPE each month. She cites that payment as one of the reasons she can’t pay her bills. That includes the bill for her electricity, which has been off since the summer.
With no electricity, the woman can’t use her breathing machine to help her sleep. Via Christi HOPE provided her with a battery pack for her phone after she had a serious fall, but the program has not helped with her electricity, she said. She’s not sure whether Via Christi HOPE is responsible for such issues.
But she doesn’t want to quit the program. Before she started going to Via Christi HOPE’s day care facility several times a week, she spent all her time at home alone.
“What am I going to do?” she said. “I don’t want to go back to what I had. I don’t want to go back to being here seven days a week.”
Not everyone has had a negative experience with Via Christi HOPE. Susan DeLap says her mother Peggy Brack, 74, has enjoyed the program since she enrolled in June.
Diagnosed with dementia, Brack struggled to live on her own, but was independent enough that her daughter knew she shouldn’t be in a facility.
When HOPE employees realized Brack wasn’t taking all her medications, they came up with a system to give her alerts, DeLap said. When she started becoming confused in the mornings and missing the bus to HOPE’s day center, HOPE sent an aide to stay with her from 7 to 8:30 a.m. when she gets on the bus. Another aide stays with her in the afternoon until DeLap’s nephew gets home. When Brack wants to shop during the week, an aide has been able to go with her.
“Now she is never alone,” DeLap said. “She has all these wraparound services, and all of this has been provided by this team of people who call me every single week to give me an update.”