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State says Liberty Shores residents protected by law

POULSBO — Liberty Shores Assisted Living Medicaid residents can stop looking for a new home. Their forced eviction due to the boarding facility’s cancelation of its Medicaid contract is illegal, according to the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

Twenty-third legislative district representatives Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) and Sherry Appleton (D-Poulsbo) said in a statement Thursday the 11 residents will be protected by Senate Bill 6807, the new regulations of which Northwest Care Management Inc., owner of Liberty Shores, was trying to avoid.

The bill, signed into immediate effect March 28 by Gov. Christine Gregoire, now requires all boarding facilities that offer Medicaid contracts to allow other residents, who are both eligible for the state funding and have been privately paying for their assisted living arrangement for at least two years, to convert to the Medicaid program.

The bill also protects residents of facilities canceling their Medicaid contract.

All current Medicaid residents and those eligible within 180 days of the cancelation date must be allowed to remain in the facility with the Medicaid program, and cannot be immediately discharged or transferred.

Northwest Care Management president Tom Johnston, who did not return calls Thursday or Friday for comment, said in a previous interview that the company canceled its Medicaid contract in direct response to the new legislation, and that taking on Medicaid contracts is something Liberty Shores wholly agrees with, but incorporating more residents in the program than is affordable would cause cuts in services and increased costs for privately paying residents. He said Medicaid was only covering about half of the real costs of the residents in the program, and each additional Medicaid contract would have cost Liberty Shores additional thousands of dollars every month.

In previous attempts to contact representation for Liberty Shores Assisted Living for comments, the Herald was referred to Johnston.

The bill was passed after another facility, not Liberty Shores, discontinued its Medicaid contract and discharged long-time residents within weeks, some of whom had expected to live out their lives in the boarding home.

In the case of the 11 Medicaid residents living at Liberty Shores, they were notified March 27 — one day before SB 6807 was signed — that they would need to find a new home within 90 days. But the DSHS has deemed that Liberty Shores’ notice of contract termination did not come soon enough.

“Under the terms of the contract, the soonest Liberty Shores could terminate the contract was 30 days after providing notice, which would be April 26, 2008, at the earliest,” reads an April 9 letter from DSHS Aging and Disability Services Assistant Secretary Kathy Leitch to Johnston. “Because the ‘effective date’ of Liberty Shores’ withdrawal from the program will occur after Senate Bill 6807 went into effect, the bill applies to Liberty Shores’ withdrawal from Medicaid.”

Three companies that operate a total of 21 boarding homes, including Liberty Shores, gave notice to terminate their contracts.

According to the press release, the DSHS and Attorney General’s office decided to subject those companies to the provisions of the legislation in response to inquiries made by Rolfes and Appleton.

“No older person should spend down all the money that they have saved for retirement, sometimes upward of $200,000, and then find themselves out on the street,” Appleton said. “The Legislature responded to protect people in just these circumstances.”

Now, if Liberty Shores continues to pursue a cancelation of their Medicaid contract, it will be required to retain its current Medicaid residents and those who have paid privately for at least two years and who convert to Medicaid within 180 days of the termination date. As the bill mandates, they will not be able to immediately discharge or transfer the residents from the facility.

Elaine Vaughn, a Seabeck resident whose mother was one of the Medicaid residents at Liberty Shores, said she wrote more than 60 letters in an attempt to bring attention to the situation and keep the eviction from occuring. She said Thursday while the DSHS’s decision was a huge relief, she is still awaiting further notification from Liberty Shores.

“I expect that it’s going to turn out OK, but it still, as my mother was saying just a little bit ago, is ‘hanging out there,’ ” she said, adding the family members of those affected are continuing to meet.

Rolfes said this situation highlights the need not just to protect Medicaid residents, but to ensure sufficient reimbursement for those facilities offering the Medicaid program.

“This incident underscores the need for the legislation we passed last month to keep families from spending their life savings and then losing their homes,” she said. “We will continue to address the high cost of long-term care and the need to adequately reimburse care providers for the work they do. But in the meantime, vulnerable people cannot be just tossed out.”

Martha & Mary fund development director Rob Gelder said that facility is not affected by SB 6807, though he does understand the difficulty of not having sufficient reimbursement for Medicaid residents.

He said 70 percent of those at Martha & Mary are enrolled in Medicaid. He also said the facility, which doesn’t offer assisted living but does provide independent living units and a skilled-care home, was determining if it could provide a new place to live for any of the Liberty Shore residents in need of one.

In a phone interview Thursday, Appleton said though the current Liberty Shores Medicaid residents can now rest easy, that doesn’t mean the matter is fully solved. Those who will not be eligible for Medicaid within 180 days of the contract cancelation must continue private pay, something that can become a great difficulty.

“That doesn’t help the people in the future,” she said. “We’ve averted the main crisis, and now we have to work on the rest of it.”

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