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Missouri Rep. Patricia Derges convicted of multiple counts of health care fraud

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Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno-KCUR 89.3
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AP-David A. Lieb
Lift Up Ozark Mission Medical Clinic in Ozark is one of four medical facilities run by MIssouri State Rep. Tricia Derges.

Derges, an assistant physician, was elected in November 2020 to represent Christian County. Missouri law requires her to forfeit her office once she is sentenced.

A federal jury on Tuesday found Missouri Rep. Patricia Derges guilty of multiple counts of health care fraud, including defrauding Greene County of federal money and marketing bogus stem cell treatments.

Following a 10-day trial, the jury convicted Derges, a Nixa Republican, of all 22 counts with which she was charged.

Missouri law requires her to forfeit her office once she is sentenced. Trevor Fox, a spokesman for the Missouri House’s Office of the Chief Clerk, said the House would be required to enforce that provision if Derges does not voluntarily step down.

“What has happened in the past, when we’ve had prior members in similar circumstances — they’ve just resigned,” Fox said. “I’ve worked here for 26 years and I haven’t seen something happen where we’ve actually had to enforce it.”

Neither Derges nor her attorney, Albert Watkins, were immediately available for comment.

Derges, an assistant physician, was elected in November 2020 to represent Christian County. She operates Ozark Valley Medical Clinic in three locations: Springfield, Ozark and Branson, Missouri.

Derges also operates a nonprofit called Lift Up Someone Today, Inc., with a medical and dental clinic in Springfield.

Prosecutors accused Derges, 63, of fraudulently obtaining more than $589,000 in federal CARES Act money for COVID-19 testing, even though she already had been reimbursed about $1 million by patients and patients’ employers.

Prosecutors also charged that she obtained nearly $297,000 in CARES Act funds for Lift Up Somebody Today, even though Lift Up didn’t provide COVID-19 testing services and closed its medical clinic at the beginning of the pandemic.

Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March 2020 in response to the economic devastation caused by the pandemic.

Prosecutors also charged that Derges purchased amniotic fluid from the University of Utah that she marketed under the name Regenerative Biologics and falsely claimed contained stem cells. They said Derges received nearly $200,000 to administer stem cell shots to patients.

The shots were given to patients suffering from a wide range of ailments, including tissue damage, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Lyme disease, erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence. Prosecutors said she even touted it as a potential cure for COVID-19 “that is safe and natural.”

Derges received a medical degree from Caribbean Medical University in Curacao in 2014 but wasn’t offered a residency.

In Missouri, assistant physicians are defined as medical school graduates who haven’t been accepted into residency programs but have passed the first two steps of the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination. They can only practice under collaborative arrangements with licensed physicians.

Derges has proposed legislation allowing assistant physicians to become licensed — similar to doctors who have completed a residency — if they have practiced for five years with a collaborating physician, passed a licensure exam and completed certain training requirements.

After she was indicted, House Republican leaders called on Derges to resign and she was stripped of her committee posts. She refused to step down and has been relegated to a small windowless room.

In a message Derges posted on Facebook after she was indicted, she wrote: “I am here, holding my head up because that’s what you do when you have done NOTHING. Never before have I seen anything like this. This is what comes after years of doing nothing but helping people. Keep prayers coming.”

In February, as part of a settlement with Missouri’s health department, Derges admitted to illegally purchasing and prescribing drugs, including the opioid oxycodone, and agreed to a three-year suspension of her narcotics license. The Missouri Independent obtained that information on the settlement through a Sunshine Law request.

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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