Two years ago this week, Lana Barnes was accused of falsifying a living will in her court battle with Methodist Hospital over the level of medical care her dying husband should receive.
Today, the 58-year-old widow from Scandia, Minn., is accused of bilking the state of Minnesota for thousands of dollars in home-based personal care services her late husband never received.
An investigation by the Minnesota Fraud Control Unit alleges numerous occasions when Barnes submitted false time cards suggesting that one of her sons, Fred Barnes, was caring for her husband. Many of the time cards indicated that the son was providing care at times when he was actually driving a truck out of state, according to a criminal complaint filed against Barnes.
In all, the complaint filed by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson accuses Barnes of submitting and receiving overpayments of more than $110,000 from the state between 2007 and May 2010. Seven felony charges of theft by misrepresentation have been filed against Barnes, who was booked at the Chisago County Jail last May. An attempt by Barnes to have the charges thrown out was dismissed by a judge last Monday; a pre-trial hearing is scheduled March 19.
Al Barnes died on Feb. 14, 2011, while his wife argued in court with hospital officials over whether aggressive treatment could revive the 85-year-old man from a near-vegetative state.
At the time, the Hennepin County referee presiding over the case had advised Barnes to consult an attorney because of another potential violation of law -- her apparent doctoring of her husband's written health care directive to make it look like he would want aggressive care. No legal action has emerged since that time regarding the health care directive.
Case one of several in state
The subsequent investigation is one of many pursued by the state's Medicaid fraud unit. In 2011, the state filed 19 such criminal fraud cases and gained 14 convictions. The state also negotiated more than $7 million in civil judgments that year against individuals or agencies for overestimating their work hours, billing for higher levels of service than were provided, or even completing time cards for days in the future.
Barnes' son was under contract with Nurse Staffing Solutions of Brooklyn Center to serve as a personal care assistant and assist his father with such basic needs as bathing, changing clothes and feeding. The son later told a state investigator that he was out of state when time cards suggested he was providing care, and that his mother had filled out all of the cards and pocketed the money from the state.
Barnes countered in court records that her husband did receive care, but that she provided it instead of her son -- and that the staffing agency knew of the situation when it submitted bills to the state.
"She felt [that] as long as her husband was being cared for, whether it be by her or her son, that he should continue receiving Medicaid benefits he was approved for and entitled to," court documents stated.
That still might constitute a violation of state Medicaid laws, but Barnes argued that it was not a theft by misrepresentation because she "was up front and honest" about the fact that she was providing the care instead of her son.
Calls to Barnes' attorney and the staffing agency were not returned. A spokesman for the Attorney General's office declined to comment because the criminal case is ongoing.
Quarrel over care
Al Barnes had been hospitalized for hundreds of days between 2008 and 2011 for complications from advanced dementia, heart problems and kidney disease. Medical records suggest he had lost all independent functioning as early as 2005, but his wife frequently quarreled with doctors over whether he could recover.
When her husband needed one last hospitalization, Lana Barnes asked an ambulance crew to bypass St. Paul-area hospitals that had treated him in the past and take him to a new hospital, Methodist in St. Louis Park.
Arguing that her husband's problems were tied to Lyme disease, Barnes demanded that the hospital treat him for that disorder and with dialysis for his failing kidneys. Doctors there believed she was making futile decisions and filed a court order to take away her decision-making authority. Her husband died before the case was resolved.
The frequent hospitalizations became part of the evidence against Barnes in the current fraud case. The state investigation found that Barnes had billed for $9,453 in home-care services on days when her husband was in hospital care.
Barnes argued that the criminal charges should be dismissed in part because the state Department of Human Services has already taken steps to reclaim funds from her. The judge disagreed in Monday's court order, stating that the repayment of funds doesn't change the fact that fraud might have occurred.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744