FOX 46 gets results for Air Force veteran almost kicked out of rehab center

News

CORNELIUS, N.C. — An elderly Korean War veteran set to be kicked out of his rehab center Thursday, despite a statewide stay-at-home order, can now stay put, thanks to FOX 46.

“Thank you FOX 46 for helping,” said the Air Force veteran’s granddaughter, Kelly Wimmer. “It has meant the world to us.”

On Tuesday, Wimmer reached out to FOX 46 for help after she was told her grandfather, Sanford Hummel, 88, would be kicked out of Autumn Care in Cornelius. The family says they were given a two-day verbal notice and would be unequipped to care for Hummel given their home is not handicap accessible. Hummel is confined to a wheelchair and in poor health.

In early March he was transferred from a hospital to Autumn Care to recover from pneumonia. The family had hoped to move him to a nursing home but could not tour any due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The family felt moving the lung cancer survivor during the coronavirus outbreak would put his life at risk. Wimmer says Autumn Care demanded more than $8,000 upfront, out-of-pocket, to let Hummel stay for the month –  an amount they couldn’t afford.

ELDERLY VETERAN TO BE KICKED OUT OF REHAB FACILITY, IMPROPERLY, DESPITE COVID-19

Autumn Care and its parent company Saber Healthcare ignored multiple requests for comment over two days and hung up on FOX 46.

“We would have been in major debt trying to keep him from being transferred during COVID-19,” said Wimmer.

FOX 46 investigative reporter Matt Grant stepped in, made calls for three days, and got results. After the report aired an elder care attorney offered to represent the family for free, viewers offered to pay for Hummel’s stay, and Sen. Thom Tillis’ office helped them file a Medicare appeal April 1, which was approved the next day.

“It makes me extremely happy to know people want to help America’s veterans,” said Wimmer, who said 15-20 people were working behind-the-scenes to help the family.

“Oh thank you,” Hummel’s daughter, Andrea Gorman, said, bursting out into tears when Medicare officials told her the good news. “Thank you so much.”

Hummel will get to stay put for at least 100 days.

“Very happy about that,” said Hummel in a phone interview. “Now I get to say it’s really a good feeling because I didn’t really have any place to go.”

“Thank you,” he added.

NURSING HOME GAVE “POOR PATIENT CARE,” OFFICIALS SAY, AFTER DEMENTIA PATIENT DISCHARGED TO EMPTY, LOCKED HOME

Gorman, in tears, had three words, when asked how she feels given the fact he was supposed to be kicked out Thursday: “Big-time relieved.”

“Is this a big weight off your shoulders?,” asked Grant.

“Oh gosh, yes,” said Gorman.

“I feel like I’m going be able to sleep at night,” added Wimmer, who on Tuesday told FOX 46, “You lose sleep over something like this.”

“He’s so happy,” said Wimmer, in a video call after talking to Medicare. “He’s so happy.”

“Yeah, he is,” echoed Gorman. “I called him right after and he said, what did he say?”

“He said, ‘OK I’m so happy and proud. The next thing you guys could work on is getting me a hoagie,’” said Wimmer, the both of them laughing.

“The sandwich request is probably going to be a little bit easier than what we’ve been doing the past couple days,” responded Grant. “Well, I’m glad we could help you guys and I’m glad the outcome turned out as good as it did.”

“Yes, thank you so much, Matt,” both responded.

‘Not Uncommon’

Hummel’s near-eviction highlights an all-too-common problem made worse by COVID-19.

“It’s very concerning,” said Natalie Miller, an elder care attorney in Mooresville with 16 years of experience. “It’s not uncommon and we see it quite a bit.”

Miller is now representing the family for free. She says Autumn Care legally should have provided the family with a written discharge notice. Without an explanation as to why Medicare had denied coverage, the family was “flying blind” in its appeal, she said.

Nursing homes must give a 30-day discharge notice but short-term facilities, like Autumn Care, are only required to give a two-day notice, state and federal officials tell FOX 46.

So what happens during a global pandemic?  

“I think there should be special circumstances,” she said. “Ideally, I’d like to  see [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] come forward with an opinion that, maybe during this time, there’s a waiver of the notice requirements and some…flexibility given. CMS can do that but they haven’t done it yet.”

She says the statewide stay-at-home order “should have an impact” on the Medicare appeal decision but legally “there’s nothing that allows for extenuating circumstances.”

MEDICAL FACILITY SENDS ELDERLY DEMENTIA PATIENT IN TAXI TO LOCKED, EMPTY HOME

Miller says it would have been illegal if Autumn Care kicked Hummel to the curb without arranging for him to be transferred to another facility capable of caring for him.

“They have to provide appropriate, safe care and placement,” she said.  

‘Guilt Tactics’

During her career, Miller has seen care facilities use “guilt tactics” to pressure families to take home an elder relative they aren’t able or equipped to give round-the-clock care.

“Generally speaking there are, I have seen guilt tactics used: ‘Are you going to let your grandmother or grandfather live under a bridge? Are you going to just let them be kicked out to the street?’”

The facility has a “legal obligation” to find appropriate and safe placement, she said. That could be with the family or it could be another facility.

Facilities can’t “dump” a loved one out onto the street but sometimes, generally, will hint that will happen, Miller says.

“That’s illegal. They can’t do that,” she said. “But they do that to get the family to take on the task of becoming placement so the facility no longer has to worry about it.”

What Can You Do?

If faced with a similar situation, Miller recommends:

  • Contacting an elder law attorney
  • Request Legal Aid, if low-income
  • Contact the Center for Medicare Advocacy, which offers resources and self-help kits for filing an appeal: https://www.medicareadvocacy.org/

Medicare Response

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services responded to FOX 46 late Thursday with the following statement:

“CMS’ first priority is to protect the health and safety of the patient. We are working closely with the North Carolina Survey Agency (SSA) to address the patient’s needs and family’s concerns.

The North Carolina State Survey Agency (SSA) reviewed this case and is working now with the facility to ensure they adhere to the federal requirements for discharging residents and options that would allow him to remain in the facility.  

CMS discharging planning guidelines require the facility to give the resident and the family a two-day notice when Medicare benefits are going to end. However, CMS discharge planning guidelines require long-term care facilities to conduct safe and orderly discharges.”

North Carolina Dept. of Health & Human Services Response

“DHHS staff followed up with this facility [March 31] afternoon and the facility assured our staff the resident’s needs will be met.

The federal regulations have requirements for facilities on conducting safe and orderly discharges. The facility must work with the resident and the family to assure the discharge is designed with needs and care of the resident covered. The facility, based on the regulations, must give a resident and the family a two day notice when Medicare benefits are going to end. But whether the Medicare benefits have ended or not, the facility still must comply with the federal regulations that require a safe and orderly discharge.”

SENATOR WORKS TO PREVENT REHAB CENTER FOR KICKING OUT ELDERLY VET DURING COVID-19 OUTBREAK

Sen. Tillis Statement

“Many providers are understandably trying to clear as many beds as possible given the anticipated increase of patients with serious and critical complications from COVID-19. With that said, it’s vital that providers judge each situation on a case-by-case basis to ensure that high-risk patients like Mr. Hummel who will still need additional medical attention are not unnecessarily put in harm’s way. Families should have adequate time to prepare, and they should also receive responsive and professional communication from providers. 

“Senator Tillis’ office has been assisting Mr. Hummel’s family to try to find a solution, which includes filing an appeal with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Mr. Hummel’s family has made it clear they have been pleased with the dedication and professionalism of the nurses and medical team at Autumn Care. Our office’s calls to Saber Healthcare Group and Autumn’s administrative team have gone unanswered. Senator Tillis’ office will continue to try to establish communication with Saber Healthcare Group to address this situation, and we will continue to assist the Hummel family to try to reach a satisfactory resolution for the health and well-being of Mr. Hummel, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran who bravely served our nation.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

More Viral