STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We're going to look a little more closely at assisted living, which has emerged as a popular alternative to a nursing home for elderly people. People get their own private apartment and can leave meals and cleaning to the staff. Sounds good, though there's very little regulation of assisted living. And as a new report in New Jersey shows, that can leave residents with little protection. NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports.
JOSEPH SHAPIRO: Pam Paulin's parents, John and May Myers, were going blind, so in 2005 they moved into Granville House, an assisted-living facility in Burlington, New Jersey.
Ms. PAM PAULIN (Parents in assisted living facility): My father loved it there. He loved the activities. He started a poker night with some men. He played chess with the nurse's son. He taught him how to play chess, because my father loved to play chess.
SHAPIRO: Granville House was expensive, about $60,000 a year. And none of it paid by insurance. But her father, an accountant, loved to play the stock market and he'd done well. Besides, the director there promised Paulin that if her parents ever ran out of money, they'd be able to get Medicaid, the state health insurance for the poor and uninsured. And they'd be able to stay in their assisted-living apartment at a lower rent.
Ms. PAULIN: I had no reason not to believe that. Everybody was up front about this kind of stuff. So I stupidly believed her, and my parents did. And apparently, so did a lot of other people.
SHAPIRO: Things changed. Last fall, Paulin's father took a big hit on his stocks. Over three years, the Myers had spent $180,000 of their own money to live at Granville House. They were out of money.
But there were new owners now. Assisted Living Concepts has facilities in 20 states. And across the country, it had changed the commitment to residents who'd gone through their savings. Late last year, a certified letter arrived at Pam Paulin's house. Her parents were being evicted.
Ms. PAULIN: Right before Christmas? You send out a notice that you're going to evict my parents?
SHAPIRO: How old were they?
Ms. PAULIN: My father, he was 93, and she was 88. And they're both legally blind - and you're going to evict them? I mean, what are you thinking?
SHAPIRO: In the past, Assisted Living Concepts has said there are limits on how many Medicaid patients they can take and still provide good care. That's not good enough for Ron Chen. He's New Jersey's public advocate, a state legal advocacy agency.
He started hearing complaints and last year opened an investigation. Chen's office contacted hundreds of families. In a report released yesterday, Chen found dozens of elderly people were promised they could stay at the company's facilities in New Jersey, and then got kicked out.
Mr. RON CHEN (Public advocate, New Jersey): This is also, by definition, a vulnerable population - elderly citizens living, usually, on fixed incomes or no incomes who can be ripe for exploitation if there's not some type of regulation.
SHAPIRO: Officials for Assisted Living Concepts said they were reviewing the new report.
Chen says in New Jersey and across the country, families are pretty much on their own unless they strengthen the regulation of assisted living.
Any change will come too late for Pam Paulin. Shortly after the eviction notice came, her father, who'd been in good health before, was hospitalized a couple times.
Ms. PAULIN: I think this was a lot of stress for him. I just think that this really wore him down. All of a sudden, he was sick and he was in congestive heart failure. And then he went into heart block. And then he was readmitted in February, and he didn't come home.
SHAPIRO: Pam Paulin's father died two months ago. Her mother, who depended upon him to care for her, also had a steep decline in health. She left the assisted living facility, and now lives in a nursing home.
Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.
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