US – The bill from her sister’s Texas senior care facility must be a mistake, Claire Harrison thought. She skimmed the unexpected line items: $11.04 for masks and gloves, $805 for care coordination, $1,200 for supplies including a coronavirus control chamber.
The last figure – the same amount her sister had recently received in stimulus money from the federal government – stood out. Harrison said she felt it couldn’t be a coincidence.
“It was the first thing that entered my head,” said Harrison, whose sister had tested positive for COVID-19 shortly before the bill from Legend of Mansfield arrived in late April. “I thought, ‘Well there goes the $1,200.'”
As COVID-19 takes a devastating toll on long-term-care residents, the industry has scrambled to contend with mounting costs. Experts say facilities where many residents pay out of pocket – such as assisted living and memory care centers – have more latitude to pass those expenses on to residents than nursing homes, which rely heavily on reimbursements from the federal government.
Some companies have used that flexibility to charge residents who have the virus extra or spread increased costs to others.
In at least eight states, residents of senior living facilities or their family members have complained to their state attorney general or long-term care ombudsman about unfair billing practices related to the pandemic.
The complaints include facilities raising rent for all residents, charging for meal delivery and personal protective equipment, siphoning stimulus checks and requiring residents to pay for 24-hour care before they can return from the hospital. Experts say they worry those examples are not outliers – and that more companies may follow suit as the pandemic continues.
“It just seems excessive,” Lori Smetanka, executive director of the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, said of Legend’s billing practices. “And I think people need to be really wary of it and check their bills and raise questions and ask for explanations for what everything is for.
“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if more companies did that,” she added.
More than 40,600 residents and employees of long-term-care facilities had died of COVID-19 by early June, according to an analysis by USA TODAY. Containing the spread within those homes has come at a high price as facilities scramble to source protective equipment, secure testing and fill staffing shortages.