A nursing home chain and its owner agreed to pay $45.6 million in entering a consent judgment with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to resolve allegations employees paid kickbacks to doctors who brought patients to them.

Prema Thekkek and the six skilled nursing homes she owned through her company, Paksn, submitted false claims to Medicare, the DOJ alleged in a settlement agreement filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Thekkek and her facilities violated the Anti-Kickback Statute and the False Claims Act, the DOJ said.

The details: From 2009-21, Paksn nursing homes paid medical directors extra for referring patients, the DOJ alleged. Physicians were hired who promised to deliver patients to the nursing homes, and those who didn’t meet a quota for referrals were fired, the DOJ alleged.

Thekkek allegedly engaged in conversations with Paksn employees about the physician payments for the referrals.

The payments were hidden as “administrative services,” despite actually being “vehicles for the payment of kickbacks,” the DOJ alleged.

Compliance considerations: The settlement arose from a whistleblower complaint made in 2015 by Paksn’s former vice president of operations and chief operating officer, Trilochan Singh, under the qui tam provisions of the False Claims Act.

Paksn agreed to participate in a five-year corporate integrity agreement with the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services that requires compliance obligations and an independent review of the company’s relationships with doctors.

Thekkek and her facilities agreed to pay at least $385,000 over five years until the penalty is paid.

“Kickbacks can impair the independence of physician decision-making and waste taxpayer dollars,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton said in a press release. “The department is committed to preventing illegal financial relationships that undermine the integrity of our public healthcare programs.”

Paksn did not reply to a request for comment.