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Why closing Holly Place will cost taxpayers money

February 08, 2005

When private companies began building assisted-living facilities a few years ago, Maryland officials tightened the rules so that these for-profit enterprises wouldn't be a drain on the state treasury.

But doing that has had the unintended consequence of shutting down Washington County's only nonprofit assisted-living facilities - Holly Place and North Holly Place.

Why should you care? Because moving the 20 patients who qualify from the Holly Place facilities to nursing homes will double the state's costs for their care.

Doug Wright, president of Senior Living Alternatives Inc. and Michael Day, a local attorney specializing in elder law, told me last week that instead of spending $2,000 a month for those 20 Holly Place residents, if the facilities closes and they go to nursing homes, the state will pay $4,000 per month.

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Let's do the math. Instead of spending $40,000 a month for those 20 patients, the state would spend $80,000.

And instead of the annual bill for that care being $480,000, under the new arrangement it would be $960,000.

Day was so upset by the situation that he has purchased radio and television time to urge citizens to call elected officials.

"They're taking a $2,000-a-month resident and turning them into a $4,000-per-month nursing-home patients. For the identical people!" he said.

Day said that he is confident that if state officials are forced to look at the financial outcome the rule change produced, they'll alter it.

But by then it might be too late, he said. Those people and agencies that are inclined to help with "bridge" funds are waiting to see what happens, so that they aren't committing dollars to facilities that are going to close anyway.

"I think at every turn, there are people who want to help, but I think they're saying 'we just can't keep throwing dollars at this if it's not going to help,'" he said.

Instead of shutting down the program, Day said, the state should look at how to preserve and expand a program that delivers good service at a reduced price.

Wright told The Herald-Mail last week that the decision to shut down came because the facilities were losing $22,000 a month and had only $22,000 in the bank. Wright confirmed what Day told me - that if the facility received an adequate number of Medicaid waivers, it could serve other residents whose only subsidy was their monthly Social Security check.

"We're asking that they bring the current number of waivers from 11 to 18. With that number, we're still $125,000 short, but that's a doable amount to raise within the community," he said.

"We'd only have to find $64,000 more than we're bringing in now. Otherwise we're going to be trying to raise $250,000 to $300,000 every year," he said.

Wright said that what happens now is when a resident dies or leaves a Holly Place facility, the waiver is lost. Residents who need services go on a waiting list and it may take six to eight months to find an opening.

There is also no guarantee that someone in Hagerstown who needs services would get them locally, Wright said. If the opening was in Dorchester County, that's where the patient would have to go, he said.

Chris Shank, chairman of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, agreed that the situation is unfortunate.

"It's an unintended consequence of a well-meaning state policy," he said.

Shank said that the delegation has scheduled a meeting Thursday with officials of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the state's Office on Aging.

Can this situation be turned around? Maybe, if the citizens of Washington County stand up for a nonprofit that has quietly provided care for needy elderly residents for the past 17 years.

The community has responded previously. In 1999, when the facility was in danger of shutting its doors, employees of the county's nursing homes organized a "phone-a-thon" and raised $20,000 on one Sunday afternoon.

State officials have consistently proposed raising rents for those who can afford them, but Holly Place board members have balked, saying that the facilities were set up for the needy.

State officials may see the light on this issue, but a little nudge from the people who will ultimately pay the bills wouldn't hurt. Call your elected officials today, before it's too late.

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