More than 100 people have agreed to be interviewed by the New Jersey Public Advocate as part of an investigation of a company that operates eight assisted living homes in South Jersey.
Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen's office is pursuing allegations that the company, Assisted Living Concepts, improperly discharged residents when their savings ran out and they went on Medicaid.
Twenty-four current and former residents of Granville House in Burlington Township and their relatives requested interviews - higher than for any other facility. The lowest number of requests, eight, came from Post House in Glassboro. Dozens more responded on the practices at the company's assisted living homes in Cumberland, Salem, Atlantic and Cape May Counties.
The public advocate last month sent letters to 538 current and former residents asking whether they had concerns about the Wisconsin-based company's involuntary discharge practices. Chen obtained the names and addresses of all former and current residents at the facilities dating back to 2006 after a Superior Court order in June forced Assisted Living Concepts to comply with a department-issued subpoena.
Many of the respondents said the company forcibly discharged them or their family members due to its policy of no longer accepting patients who spent all of their own money and went on Medicaid, the department said. Of the nearly half who replied, 122 people agreed to be contacted as part of the investigation, which began in May over complaints from the company's Chapin House in Rio Grande, Cape May County.
"The response we are getting indicates that there may indeed be many more people out there who have been subject to ALC's unreasonable and unfair involuntary discharge policy," Chen said in a prepared statement.
The company stated in its Certificate of Needs and Licenses issued by the state in 1996 that it would not discharge residents who exhausted their private resources and wound up on Medicaid. Assisted Living Concepts' parent company changed in 2006, around the time it began involuntarily discharging some residents who already held longtime contracts and planned to live out their days there, according to the public advocate's office.
The state is dispatching four teams of officials to interview people through October, said spokeswoman Laurie Facciarossa Brewer.
"What we need to find out is what they're telling us and what they're writing in surveys: Are these isolated incidents, or do they represent a trend?" she said.
Assisted Living Concepts did not return calls for comment this week, although it has previously denied the accusations.
In a June 6, 2008, letter to the state's Department of Health and Senior Services, which licenses assisted living homes, the company wrote that its Medicaid participation rate in the state is more than 30 percent, even though other assisted living providers are only required to set aside 10 percent of their beds for Medicaid residents under state legislation enacted in 2001. The company said it has not been required to participate in New Jersey's Medicaid program because its facilities were licensed before the law went into effect.
President and CEO Laurie Bebo wrote that Medicaid residents are in a higher need category, and at the company's six New Jersey facilities where Medicaid participation is greater than 21 percent, the company has lost on average $7,000 per month before taxes. The company wants to drop its portion of Medicaid residents to 10 percent.
"If the department insists that ALC accept any additional rollovers at this time or requires ALC to set aside more than 10 percent of its units for Medicaid," Bebo concluded, "we may have no choice but to take steps to eliminate the assisted living license at our communities in New Jersey and operate them as senior independent living communities."