Fraud probe into US drug-tester used in custody cases – Vice
Drug-testing company Averhealth, whose products were used by courts to evaluate parents’ fitness for custody of their children, is under investigation by the US Department of Justice for medical fraud, Vice reported on Friday, citing internal government emails.
The Justice Department is specifically looking into allegations, made under oath by former lab director Sarah Riley, that Averhealth disregarded quality controls meant to ensure proper calibration of lab instruments, leading to incorrect results in as many as 30% of reports to Michigan’s child welfare agency. The company has denied the claims.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) suspended its contract with Averhealth upon learning of the DOJ probe, the emails reveal. While the testing company told Vice that its contract with the agency remains in place, a March 2022 message from a special advisor to the Children’s Services Agency director confirmed the department had “discontinued the use of Averhealth drug testing company after receiving information from the US attorney that Averhealth was under investigation for medical fraud.”
“[Averhealth] were not complying with national accreditation standards as it related to calibration of testing devices despite agreeing to do so in their contract,” the message read.
The College of American Pathologists (CAP), the body responsible for accrediting testers such as Averhealth, had substantiated Riley’s complaint alleging unacceptable lab practices in January 2021, placing the drug tester on probation for the first six months of that year. Averhealth nevertheless told Vice that CAP had “determined that Dr. Riley’s allegations were unfounded,” and had even maintained its innocence in emails to the Michigan HHS while on probation for those same allegations.
The emails show Michigan HHS employees were also deeply unsettled by irregularities in Averhealth's results. “We are making BIG decisions, including having parents leave home or removal, and that’s scary to do when you don’t trust who you’re getting services from,” one email from a HHS supervisor to her colleagues read.
Several parents are suing Averhealth over allegedly false drug test results returned by the company, claiming they were unfairly deprived of visitation rights to their children and other rights as a result. At least 2,885 children in foster care had parents or guardians return positive drug tests from Averhealth during the period it was contracted with Michigan, according to agency emails.