Seniors on Medicaid face eviction from assisted-living homes

By Brian Williams
April 24, 2023

To the profit-driven capitalist rulers, the lives of retired workers, especially those with disabilities, don’t mean much, as there’s no longer any profits to be made through exploiting their labor. One reflection of the social and moral crisis of their system is the rising number of assisted-living home residents who are being kicked out because they have nothing left but Medicaid to pay their bills.

Shirley Holtz, 91, was one of 15 residents ordered to vacate Emerald Bay Retirement Community near Green Bay, Wisconsin, after the facility stopped accepting state-sponsored Medicaid payments. Thrown out, her health deteriorated and she died three weeks later.

Holtz had been living there for four years. “She had dementia and was enrolled in hospice care,” reported the April 6 Washington Post. She worked much of her life as a secretary, raising her family in the nearby small town of Algoma. Like almost all older workers in assisted living, she lost her entire life savings to the facility’s bosses to pay for her stay there. So she turned to Medicaid to pay for the last two years.

The federal government does not provide any data on the frequency of these evictions. But about 4.4 million people have some form of long-term care paid for by Medicaid, and nearly 150,000 are in U.S. assisted-living facilities. And today a wave of 73 million “baby boomers” is hitting an age where this is likely to be their future, as they need more day-to-day care than families can provide.

At the same time, President Joseph Biden’s administration has announced the COVID-19 pandemic is over — despite thousands of hospitalizations and over 1,500 deaths weekly — meaning state governments are tossing some 15 million people off Medicaid.

Evictions have become common in many states. In Wisconsin, at least four facilities have canceled Medicaid managed-care contracts in recent months. One of them being Cedarhurst of Madison, where 28 residents were called together in a group meeting and told to evacuate, the Post reported.

“Residents were in tears to hear they had to find another place to live,” Elizabeth Burnette, 80, told the Post. “Most of us are incapacitated in some way, with walkers and in wheelchairs or mobile beds.”

Nursing homes drive for profit

The Cedarhurst facility is owned by a real estate investment firm, Diversified Healthcare Trust. Bosses there decided to dump Medicaid patients, allowing 100% of the spaces at the Madison facility to be filled at much more profitable private pay rates.

The median operating profit for U.S. assisted-living facilities in 2019 was a huge 29%, the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care reports.

For many of those seeking a spot in assisted-living facilities, they’re told that if they pay full rates until all of savings are exhausted, and anything remaining, like their homes, is turned over, then they can remain under Medicaid. But contracts drawn up by facility owners bury in fine print exceptions, including the “right” to change their policies at will.

“It’s appalling,” Megan Brillault told the Post. Her mother, Nancy Brillault, was evicted from HarborChase of Shorewood after spending most of her $120,000 savings. “They said, ‘Here, let us take your money, all your life savings, and you can live here forever,’ and 10 months later they’re saying, ‘We miscalculated, and we are no longer taking Medicaid beds.’”

Owners of assisted-living facilities promote their facilities as a better and healthier alternative to the wretched conditions facing working people in many nursing homes. While federal law protects Medicaid beneficiaries in nursing homes from eviction, this protection doesn’t apply to assisted-living facilities.

Isn’t capitalism great?