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Dan Rodricks: Marylanders should take pride in Brian Frosh’s righteous battles on behalf of the most vulnerable among us | COMMENTARY

Brian Frosh, 75, announced last week that he would not seek a third term as Maryland attorney general.
Brian Frosh, 75, announced last week that he would not seek a third term as Maryland attorney general. (Win McNamee/Getty)

Brian Frosh, who announced last week that he would not seek a third term as attorney general, accomplished a ton of good for the people of Maryland, particularly the most vulnerable among us — none more so than the poorest of nursing home patients.

Among his many accomplishments, Frosh ran a horrible nursing home operator out of business in the state. There’s a lot of competition for the distinction, but that might have been his finest hour.

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Pardon my bias in this nomination. I hold out hope that there’s a particularly noxious place in hell for people who engage in patient dumping.

As described in a 2016 lawsuit that Frosh brought against a company that operated five nursing homes in Maryland, patient dumping occurs when a nursing home evicts “frail, infirm, mentally ill and physically and intellectually disabled people” because they hurt the bottom line. Most of those patients are covered by public insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid. Of the two, Medicare reimburses a nursing facility at a substantially higher rate. The nursing home that drew Frosh’s attention had constantly monitored the insurance status of its poorest residents and discharged them when their Medicare coverage ran out. All were eligible for additional coverage under Medicaid, but the nursing home wanted new patients and the higher reimbursement they brought.

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When it comes to exploiting the poor to make money, cruelty has no limits.

According to the lawsuit, the staff at a Hagerstown nursing home told a 59-year-old woman with advanced stage cancer that she had to leave when her 100 days of Medicare coverage ran out, threatening to call the police if she did not do so. The woman, a West Virginian who had had a tracheostomy and weighed only 85 pounds, gathered her belongings and prepared for discharge.

“They put her in a car with a woman she didn’t know,” Frosh says. “The woman drove her to Baltimore — [the patient] had never been to Baltimore before — and they put her up in a rowhouse and fed her ramen noodles and water for two weeks. … They took away her West Virginia benefits card that gave her money, not a lot, to buy food [and coerced her to disclose her PIN.] … She figured out after a couple of weeks how to turn off her benefits card. When this unlicensed assisted-living facility found that out, they physically abused her and put her in a car and dumped her at a homeless shelter. She was in such bad shape, the homeless shelter had the smarts to call an ambulance and get her to an emergency room [at Mercy Hospital]. They saved her life.”

That was just one case out of many, according to the AG’s lawsuit. Other evicted patients included men with traumatic brain injuries and one who needed daily dialysis for kidney disease. They ended up in sham assisted-living facilities, too. “One woman, they just dropped at her son’s house [with] no warning, when he wasn’t home,” says Frosh. “She had dementia and was wandering around the neighborhood when he came home. It was horrendous.”

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The nursing home company paid Maryland a fine of $2.2 million and agreed to cease operations in the state. Patients were relocated; new ownership took over.

Was that Frosh’s finest hour as Maryland AG?

Given the severity of the allegations and the outcome, I would say so. But Frosh’s record as attorney general includes other laudable actions to stop, as he puts it, “the ways poor people are pounded deeper into poverty.”

There was his work, as a state senator and then as attorney general, against the cash bail system for criminal defendants. Maryland had thousands of people in jail because they were poor, not because they were dangerous or a flight risk. “People would get charged with a minor crime,” Frosh says, “and a judge would say, ‘OK, $2,500 — which means you pay a bail bondsman $250 — and you’re out until trial.’ Problem was, there were thousands of people who couldn’t scrape together $250 to get out of jail, go to work and take care of their family. The judiciary passed a new rule that said to every judge, ‘If you are going to impose a financial condition for someone’s release before trial you must, as a matter of due process, determine if they can meet that condition.’ And then I had to fight off the bail bondsmen in the legislative session that followed. … There are thousands fewer people in jail [today] than there were four or five years ago.”

Along the same lines, Frosh called for an end to suspending the driver’s licenses of people who have not paid traffic fines. The practice, he says, resulted in thousands of Marylanders being caught in a “terrible cycle of consequences,” the foremost being lost work and wages. The General Assembly agreed with Frosh and prohibited debt-based license suspensions.

Frosh’s office also went after companies that engaged in deceptive practices to buy structured financial settlements from the victims of lead paint poisoning.

The AG is also party to a proposed $26 billion settlement with pharmaceutical companies that fostered the deadly opioid crisis by promoting and distributing far more painkilling drugs than warranted. Maryland’s part of that could be worth nearly $500 million to the state.

That tempts monetizing Brian Frosh’s worth as attorney general. But the real value of his tenure arises from his vigilance, his righteous battles for the poor and vulnerable, and the sense of justice such efforts yield for all of us.

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