Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Leader Article on Victoria House

By Allison Arthur, Leader Staff Writer

Kay Harper will leave Victoria House on her own terms and not those of the corporation that owns the Port Townsend assisted-living facility.
Harper announced yesterday during a meeting of residents that she will leave Feb. 15, not Feb. 1. The latter was the deadline the Wisconsin-based multi-state company that owns the facility had given her and others to depart because it canceled its Medicaid contract with the state.
The plight of 11 residents in Port Townsend and 21 residents of another facility owned by Assisted Living Concepts in Tumwater has caught the attention of state legislators, three of whom introduced legislation last week that would prevent companies from doing what ALC did.
Assisted-living facilities that want to close their doors to people on Medicaid would not be able to evict existing residents such as Harper if House Bill 3204 is enacted.
Kevin Krueger, regional administrator for the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), said the bill would ensure that people on Medicaid are "grandfathered" if any facility terminates its contract for people on state aid.
"If this bill were to be passed, if they terminate their Medicaid contract, they would have to grandfather those who are now on Medicaid. Why not let them attrition out?" Krueger said of allowing people to age in place as long as possible, moving only if their care needs changed.
Without such legislation, Krueger said there are "very real and valid fears" among those in boarding homes that what ALC did at Victoria House in Port Townsend and West Woods Assisted Living in Tumwater could be repeated throughout the state.
ALC owns 21 similar facilities in Washington and 208 assisted-living and independent-care facilities across the United States.
"This was a corporate decision, a business decision," Krueger said. He said he had met with a corporate representative and it was clear from that discussion that the company planned to terminate all Medicaid contracts for poor people at all facilities in Washington in order to accept private-pay residents who pay more for their care than the state does.
Laurie A. Bebo, the CEO and president of Assisted Livings Concepts, said yesterday that she would consider dropping the state contract should the bill move forward and before any legislation could take effect.
"We would have to seriously consider pulling out [of Medicaid contracts] before it goes into effect," she said. "To have a contract where there is no exit clause doesn't seem to be fair and reasonable to both parties."
Bebo accepted a call from The Leader while a reporter was at Victoria House to interview Harper and take photos of her making the announcement of her departure.
Victoria House Administrator Wayne Pattison initially said photos couldn't be taken inside the facility without written permission of the residents. Residents then verbally agreed to have their photos taken with Harper, which ombudsman John Estes noted in the minutes of the meeting.
Pattison got on the phone with Bebo, then offered The Leader a chance to talk to Bebo after he was advised she had not returned recent calls for comment.
Bebo had said in November that the reason the company wanted out of its contract with the state was because there were some Medicaid clients in Port Townsend who needed to move to a skilled-care nursing facility and were refusing to do so.
"They pose a challenge and a concern to us as far as our staff being able to take care of their needs," Bebo said in November.
Krueger noted that ALC could have discharged anyone whose needs it could not meet. He noted that only one of the people who moved from Victoria House went to a nursing home.All of those given notices to depart by Feb. 1 did so, except Harper.
Harper, whose son Nick Harper was lauded as Port Townsend Business Leader of the Year on Sunday, leased a house on McPherson Street that a friend, Patty Crutcher, found for her after reading about Kay's plight in The Leader.
Kay Harper, who had been at Victoria House for 10 years, said last week she was glad to be leaving and going where she is wanted. She will need support at her new home.
"It's mine. I'm going to be in charge. There won't be people running around telling me what to do. You always feel like you're in somebody's way. I do things. I make bread and pass it around," Harper said.She repeated that sentiment yesterday when she announced her departure.
"Doris, I'll miss talking to you across the hall," Harper said. "I'm going to be back to see you. Nobody really ever gets rid of me."
Several residents and those who have watched Harper over the years said her departure will be a loss for the residents. Harper also had led a protest in November against ALC's actions.
"She's been a voice for the residents," said Dee Pumplin, whose father has been at Victoria House for five years.
And John Boles said that while the corporation didn't like what Harper had to say, she was "always watching out for people."
Bebo said Harper's departure plans had been worked out between attorneys and she was comfortable with that decision even though it missed the Feb. 1 deadline.
"It was an unfortunate situation, but I think most people found alternatives nearby and I hope this doesn't happen again," Krueger said of what happened in Port Townsend and Tumwater and his hopes for the legislation, which he said likely would be controversial.
(Contact Allison Arthur at

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