Today is the first in a series of new posts featuring a look at news happening around Rochester. We won’t cover everything… just the things you’re likely to hear about around the water cooler. Keep an eye on the blog and you’ll be informed.

The local region’s largest women-run business and former recipient of the Rochester Business Ethics Award, HCR Home Care allegedly reported $2.2 million worth of fraudulent billings from 2002 to 2006. Illegal expenses likely included executives’ country club dues, company vehicles, business loan interest, and funding for marketing campaigns. Ongoing investigation suggests that 23 employees who were lacking proper certifications logged 6,500 hours of work. Moreover, home healthcare aides are accused of inflating hours for increased pay.

The Rochester Business Journal reports that HCR Home Care “has agreed to pay $2.5 million plus interest to settle charges of Medicaid fraud, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Thursday.” Schneiderman’s statement adds, “[HCR Home Care] looks forward to continuing as a provider in good standing with the Medicaid program.” The company is one of the four Rochester healthcare institutions able to bill Medicaid and Medicare directly. HCR Health Care is the only one that is for-profit and privately owned.

Where does this leave one of Rochester’s top women-owned businesses? Despite obvious setbacks, the future of HCR Health Care looks promising. According to Former CEO and HCR Health Care Consultant, the company plans to extend services to new upstate locations. The expansion will counteract the recent $2.5 million fraud settlement.

Chairman and Founder Louise Woerner was unavailable for comment. Jay Speers, of The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, told The Democrat and Chronicle that the move did not threaten patients’ health or safety. There was no direct or glaring evidence of criminal intent, Speers added.

The Democrat and Chronicle clarifies Schneiderman’s statement, saying that “HCR has taken additional steps such as investing in technology to improve internal processes and compliance with the Medicaid regulations to ensure the accuracy of cost reports and billings.”

Will HCR Home Care continue to turn a blind eye to under-qualified — including uncertified — staff? Can healthcare providers count on home care aides to accurately report work hours? Should for-profit companies have privileges to bill Medicaid and Medicare? What do you think?