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Medicaid residents must find new homes

POULSBO — Elaine Vaughn never thought she’d be facing the dilemma she is today.

Her 94-year-old mother, a nine-year Liberty Shores Assisted Living Retirement Community resident, is about to be out of a home.

And she isn’t the only one.

Twelve Liberty Shores and Harbor House Alzheimer’s Community residents have been given 90 days to find a new place to live after Northwest Care Management Inc., owner of the Liberty Shores facilities, withdrew its state Medicaid funding program March 27.

In a letter from corporation President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Johnston, Liberty Shores announced all Medicaid recipients should contact their Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) case managers and find alternate living arrangements by June 26.

“I was in total disbelief that this could happen,” Vaughn said Monday, just days after discovering she must now search out a new living situation conducive to the needs of her mother, who has been wheelchair-bound since suffering a stroke nine years ago. “This is just so cold and uncaring.”

The announcement came one day before Gov. Christine Gregoire signed into effect a legislative bill requiring all boarding facilities that offer Medicaid contracts to allow residents — those eligible for the state funding and those who have been privately paying for their assisted living arrangement for at least two years and will become eligible — to remain or convert to Medicaid within 180 days of the facility’s withdrawal from the program. Senate Bill 6807 contained an emergency clause, putting it into effect the day it was signed: March 28.

To Vaughn and her mother, the advance action of Liberty Shores was akin to pulling the rug out from under a dozen residents who thought they had found a home to live out the remainder of their years.

“I don’t believe they could do something like this,” Vaughn said. “There’s just no caring for the person that’s involved. It’s strictly a business decision.”

Johnston said Northwest Care Management has four facilities with Medicaid contracts, and of them only Liberty Shores will initially drop the program. The company acted in direct response to the new law, and he said he is “distraught” over pulling out of the Medicaid program.

“The decision to do so was not an easy one,” reads the Liberty Shores announcement. “As a result of these unfortunate changes, please be aware that we no longer have available apartments for current Medicaid eligible residents and, in the future, we will not have units available for residents whose financial situations may change during their stay with us.”

Johnston said 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.

“We had no choice really but to make that decision,” Johnston said. “We’re very, very saddened by the fact that it does have such an effect on residents that have been with us for a number of years.”

Close to 400 “Medicaid beds,” as Johnston termed them, have been canceled throughout the state. He said he worries the new regulation will cause a gap to grow between facilities that only allow for private payers and those that allow Medicaid residents.

DSHS residential care services division office chief Irene Owens said she doesn’t think that will become the case.

“I think the bottom line is the regulations are the same, whatever kind of boarding home it is,” she said. And while privately funded facilities may have more of the “bells and whistles,” keeping a level of service and maintenance is still expected by any assisted living home.

Owens said any facility that does decide to withdraw its Medicaid contract is required to contact the DSHS, and as of Monday they had yet to receive any notification from Liberty Shores.

Though she is not familiar with the particular facility’s situation, she said the fact remains for any elderly resident facing eviction due to a Medicaid program cancelation, the results can be hard to bear.

“It’s not a nice thing for people who may have thought they could live there for the rest of their life,” she said.

Johnston also said he felt legislators did not think through economic fallout caused by the new legislation.

Sherry Appleton, 23rd Legislative District representative (D-Poulsbo), voted for the bill to pass, and said it was put into effect specifically to protect residents like the dozen at Liberty Shores, though she did not expect them to be evicted before the regulation was put into action.

“Liberty Shores is a fine, fine facility and I just would not have expected that to happen,” she said. “As a member of our community, I’m terribly disappointed.”

Twenty-third Legislative District Rep. Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge) and Sen. Phil Rockefeller (D) also voted to pass the regulation.

Johnston said he encourages any person affected by the bill to contact a representative and offer feedback.

But for Vaughn and her mother, who has not left Liberty Shores in eight years, offering feedback is only the start of a journey neither of them ever expected to take.

Vaughn has already started the search for a new place for her mother to live, but has yet to find a replacement that fits her needs and way of life she’s come to value.

“My mother never expected to need government assistance after she and my dad worked hard through the Depression and until their retirement years, saving and investment was always a part of their budget,” she said in a letter to Johnston. “How do you think she is doing with this eviction notification? How would you feel if this eviction letter was for your dear mother? Please reconsider your business plan with compassion and care for those immediately impacted.”

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