TEWKSBURY — In a press release issued last week by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, it was announced that her office has sued a national addiction treatment center chain for submitting millions of dollars in false claims to the state’s Medicaid program, known as MassHealth, for urine drug tests that were medically unnecessary and violated federal and state self-referral laws because they were performed at the company’s own laboratory.
One of the locations of the program is in Tewksbury. The attorney general’s office filed the action in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts under the Massachusetts False Claims Act against Total Wellness Centers, LLC, CleanSlate Centers, Inc., and CleanSlate Centers, LLC and former company owner Dr. Amanda Louise Wilson.
“This company’s business model was to illegally profit by cheating our state Medicaid program, which provides vital health care resources to some of our most vulnerable residents,” said AG Healey in a statement released from her office. “We will take legal action against this kind of misconduct in order to recover funds for our state and protect the integrity of MassHealth.”
In March 2019, representatives of the Tewksbury office of Clean Slate gave an informational presentation to the Tewksbury Board of Health. Dr. David Tortorella and Krissy Naughton, NP, of The Clean Slate Center at 170 Main St. appeared before the board. Tortorella and Naughton explained that the center provides addiction medicine services. The Tewksbury location, which opened in 2014, is one of several centers in Massachusetts.
As of the March 2019 presentation, Tortorella and Naughton said they served 350 patients from Tewksbury and surrounding communities, supporting people going through detox on a walk-in or call ahead basis, and those suffering with opioid and alcohol addiction.
The company was founded in Northampton, but has since moved its headquarters to Brentwood, Tennessee. The lawsuit, according to the press release, alleges that CleanSlate required patients, depending on their stage of treatment, to submit to a variety of qualitative and quantitative urine drug tests, some of which were medically unnecessary.
The AG’s Office also alleges that CleanSlate and Dr. Wilson caused false claims to be submitted to MassHealth and its contracted managed care entities for these unneeded tests, which violate medical necessity requirements under MassHealth regulations.
During the presentation in 2019, CleanSlate’s Naughton and Tortorella explained to the Board of Health that the program offers on-site counseling and case management, along with other supports. The center does not provide psychiatric services but does refer out. The center, at the time, worked closely with Tewksbury’s substance use coordinator Maria Ruggiero and reported several positive outcomes.
When asked about the allegation, Tewksbury’s Health Director Susan Sawyer said, via email, she was not aware of this action and that the company had interacted with the town in prior years during a Hepatitis outbreak amongst addicts in Massachusetts.
Tewksbury Board of Health member Maria Zaroulis, who is also on the board of Tewksbury CARES, said via email, “This is the first I'm hearing about any of this. I've had nothing but good interactions with them, and they've been very helpful in supporting Tewksbury CARES.”
CleanSlate’s appearance before the Tewksbury Board of Health in 2019 was informational and not a result of any inquiry or action on the part of the town.
The press release goes on to say that “the AG’s complaint also alleges that the company’s policies, which directed clinicians at CleanSlate to refer laboratory work to its own Holyoke laboratory, violate federal and state self-referral statutes. Dr. Wilson owned both the clinic and lab in Massachusetts and developed the policies directing the self-referrals.”
The self-referral law prohibits referrals between clinical laboratories and any entity with a direct or indirect ownership interest in the laboratory and vice versa. State law also prohibits a laboratory from testing any specimen received from an entity with an ownership interest in the laboratory.
According to a spokesperson for the AG’s office, via the press release, “These allegations were originally made in a case filed in April 2017 under the whistleblower (or qui tam) provision of the False Claims Act. The act permits private parties to sue for fraud on behalf of the government, and it also permits federal and state governments to intervene in such actions, as Massachusetts has done in this case, which is captioned U.S. et al. ex rel. Wendy Welch v. CleanSlate Centers, Inc., et al.; Civil Action No. 17-CV-30038-MGM (D. Mass.).”
According to the state, this matter is being handled by Managing Attorney Kevin Lownds, Assistant Attorney General Gregoire Ucuz, Senior Healthcare Fraud Investigator Steven Pfister, and Investigator William Welsh, all of the AG’s Medicaid Fraud Division, with substantial assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General.
The AG’s Medicaid Fraud Division receives 75 percent of its funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a grant award. The remaining 25 percent is funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the notice from Healy’s office stated.
Clean Slate was contacted for comment for this story, but as of printing did not respond.