NJ investigates assisted living evictions

April 16, 2009 3:47:35 PM PDT
An assisted living corporation is accused of moving elderly patients out when their life savings dry up.

Assisted Living Concepts, based in Wisconsin, operates eight facilities in New Jersey, including the Granville Home in Burlington.

74-year-old Joan Kohlbrenner, who suffers from emphysema, says she loves her assisted living apartment there. But after spending about $144,000 over three years, her money is gone. And now that she's moving to Medicaid, she is in danger of being evicted.

"I just don't know what I'd do," she said. "I don't know where I would go or what would happen to me."

"It's bad enough for me and my sisters as her family," said Kohlbrenner's daughter, Robin Zingaro. "But for her?. She's scared to death."

Kohlbrenner's story is not isolated. New Jersey's Public Advocate says an 18-month investigation shows that Assisted Living Concepts, which owns over 200 facilities nationwide, has done this to dozens of residents.

"The company pursued a policy of keeping elderly residents until they drained their life savings and then washed their hands of them," said New Jersey Public Advocate Ronald Chen.

Chen says that is exactly what happened to an 84-year-old Bridgeton woman, now deceased, who was evicted from the Maurice House in Millville. It happened in 2007 after her $150,000 saving was used up.

Her grandson, Todd Buirch, says she and her family were heartbroken. "It was like, the money was gone and they didn't want anything more to do with her," he said.

Assisted Living Concepts says Medicare pays only about two-thirds the daily rate it charges others. The company says "to provide the best care for residents and to remain a solvent business, there are limits on the number of Medicaid residents any assisted living facility can serve."

The state says the evictions don't violate the law, but they conflict with what A.L.C. promised when applying for its license. Legislation has been introduced that would prohibit facilities from evicting paying residents who exhaust their life savings and switch to Medicaid.

The state says families should always make sure to get things in writing. Families who find themselves in similar situations are urged to call the New Jersey Public Advocate's hotline at 609-826-5070.

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