Few things rankle and linger like the suspicion you've been cheated.
Whether you've been overcharged, paid for work that wasn't completed, or just outright scammed, the memory of being taken often lasts a lifetime.
So it seemed odd, at best, that a spokeswoman for a nursing home sued by a U.S. attorney for cheating the government by billing for treatment it didn't provide dismissed the allegations, saying they "are over five years old."
She also denied that the horrific tales laid out in the lawsuit had any merit and promised "we will defend ourselves vigorously."
Never miss a local story.
That's as it should be. Our system guarantees Villasprings Health Care and Rehabilitation in Erlanger will have a full opportunity to mount a vigorous defense.
But to suggest that the charges are somehow — what? — less important, disturbing, relevant or costly because they deal with events of a few years ago is nonsense. Indeed, it's not even true. The lawsuit deals with a period ending Dec. 31, 2008, less than three years ago, although some of the most troubling accusations date to 2005.
To recap a few of the charges brought to light in Valarie Honeycutt Spears' Tuesday story and in the lawsuit itself:
■ Patients who weren't incontinent were placed in adult diapers, a practice that is not only humiliating but can also lead to sores, infection and incontinence.
■ Pressure sores developed and went untreated, leading to infection, bone damage and sometimes amputation.
■ Medication errors were prevalent.
■ Patients suffered from dehydration and malnutrition,
■ For one patient during a period of slightly less than eight months, there were 188 days in which no nursing notes were entered to chart his care.
■ Another patient received only four showers in her 43 days at Villasprings.
Former residents or their family members have filed at least three lawsuits alleging the residents failed to receive proper care, a failing that in some instances led to death.
The essence of the lawsuit is that Villasprings billed Medicare and Medicaid for services to patients that it either never provided or provided so badly they were "worthless."
That, the feds say, is fraud. It's the first time the government has charged a Kentucky nursing home with fraud for billing for poor care.
We certainly hope Villasprings is now in compliance with regulatory requirements, as the spokesperson said in response to the lawsuit.
But even if it is, and even though the charges go back a few years, this lawsuit is essential for both taxpayers and nursing-home residents.
Regulatory enforcement backed up by small fines or slaps on the wrist makes it all too tempting to bend the rules, cut costs and look the other way.
The weight of this lawsuit and its insistence taxpayers get value for the money paid to care for our vulnerable elderly will, we hope, sound a warning that will be very hard to forget.