I-Team: More complaints about nursing home evictions, where to go for help
STATEWIDE (WGME) -- The I-Team investigates elderly evictions and discovers a growing number of complaints about older Mainers being forced out of nursing homes.
According to reports filed with the federal government, there are dozens of complaints in Maine every year about nursing home discharges and evictions.
In fact, it's now the most frequent complaint.
With an aging population in Maine, advocates for the elderly say this is an important issue for nursing home residents and their families.
Janelle Delicata says the decision to move her mother into a nursing home was a difficult one.
She doesn't have any complaints about the care her mother gets at the facility, but she said she was shocked when after about a year of living there, she got a forced discharge letter.
"All of a sudden we get an eviction notice. You're going to put a 91-year-old lady out on a park bench?" she said.
The administrator of the nursing home didn't respond to a request from the I-Team to talk about the eviction process, but according to a letter sent to the Delicata family "the grounds for the planned discharge" is nonpayment.
"You have failed, after reasonable and appropriate notice to pay for your stay," according to the letter.
"I kept telling them; there is no money. The woman is broke. What are they going to do dump her with her stuff on a curb? She can barely walk," Delicata said.
The amount owed was more than $50,000.
"This is an important issue. When people move into nursing homes it becomes their home. It's really important for them to be able to stay in the nursing home as long as they want to be there and they require that care," said Brenda Gallant, executive director of the state's Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.
The top complaint about nursing homes in Maine is related to discharges and evictions.
Last year in Miane there were 100 complaints about discharges and evictions; in 2016 there were 67,
According to federal data reviewed by the I-Team, the experience is becoming more common for nursing home residents across the country.
There were more than 9,000 complaints about discharges and evictions in 2016, that's up about 15% since 2013..
"It's a difficult form of healthcare. There are a lot of times few resources and a lot of expectation." said nursing home administrator Matthew Lessard.
Lessard is not involved in the Delicata case and says he's only had to deal with a few notices of discharge but in every case it's been a financial issue.
He says it's important clearly communicate payment responsibility upfront.
"Sometimes it gets a little tenous people don't like to talk about money and finances and it becomes a difficult conversation at times but an important conversation," Lessard said.
Recently federal regulators sent a memo to state nursing home inspectors saying discharges "are of great concern because in some cases they can be unsafe and or traumatic."
"In some cases, residents have become homeless," the memo from CMS said.
Gallant was on the task force that helped write the memo.
It outlines legal reasons for a discharge, including the health and safety of the resident, other residents and failure to pay.
Gallant says her Ombudsman program can help.
"Whenever we got involved we were able to work with the resident and the nursing home to prevent the discharge," Gallant said.
Delicata says they were able to help keep her mother in the nursing home by finding payment resources available.
"I called the Maine Ombudsman; they were very very kind. The whole process can be so confusing. They can give you a step by step of what you need to do. They will hold your hand," Delicata said.
If you're dealing with an eviction issue, you can contact the Maine Ombudsman program for free and confidential help: (800) 499-0229
The Maine Health Care Association says providers work with families to find appropriate and safe placement in cases of nonpayment. Full statement:
Maine’s nursing homes care for approximately 7,000 residents statewide, 70% of whom rely on MaineCare funding for their care. The MaineCare eligibility process is time consuming and cumbersome and can be daunting for families. Our members understand this and provide assistance whenever possible. There is a serious financial impact, as nursing homes are required by regulation to continue to provide services, whether paid or not, until a safe discharge can be arranged. In these unfortunate circumstances, providers work with families and the Maine Long Term Care Ombudsman Program to find appropriate and safe placement. Because of the extent to which our nursing homes rely on MaineCare, all parties agree that it’s important to resolve these issues as expeditiously as possible for the residents who need this level of care.