Senator works to prevent rehab center from kicking out elderly veteran during COVID-19 outbreak

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CORNELIUS, N.C. — Sen. Thom Tillis’ office is working to prevent a rehabilitation facility in Cornelius from kicking out an 88-year-old Korean War veteran, who is in poor health, with only a two-day notice.

“It’s been hard,” Andrea Gorman, the daughter of Sanford Hummel, said in tears.

“You lose sleep over something like this,” said Hummel’s granddaughter, Kelly Wimmer.

In the middle of a statewide stay-at-home order, the Air Force veteran is set to be kicked out of Autumn Care over a Medicare payment dispute, his family said. Previously, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told FOX 46 that a 30-day notice must be given.

“He’s just scared because of his health,” said Gorman. “He just thinks it’s not safe for him to move right now.”

Hummel, a lung cancer survivor, is confined to a wheelchair and recovering from pneumonia. Given his age, and health, he would likely not survive if he contracted COVID-19.

RELATED: ELDERLY VET TO BE KICKED OUT OF REHAB FACILITY, IMPROPERLY, DESPITE COVID-19

Autumn Care, and its parent company Saber Healthcare, have ignored multiple requests for comment over two days.

Gorman says her thousand square-foot home isn’t handicap accessible and she isn’t equipped to care for her dad.

“He’s been through so much in his life,” she said. “He’s such a great father, great grandfather, he’s always been there for us. And I told him [Monday], I said, ‘Dad I’ll do whatever I can to keep you safe.’ And he said, ‘You do it.’”

With 24 hours before Autumn Care threatened to kick out Hummel, FOX 46 is still working to get results. We alerted Gov. Roy Cooper’s office, Cornelius city officials, and reached back out to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but did not hear back.

Sen. Tillis’ Office Gets Involved

FOX 46 reached out to Sen. Thom Tillis on Tuesday. On Wednesday, his office helped Hummel’s family file a Medicare appeal. A decision could take up to three business days, the family said.

“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,” Tillis’ spokesman said. “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.”

Tillis’ office said Autumn Care and Saber Healthcare Group have ignored their calls as well. His office says they will “continue to try to establish communication” to “address the situation.”

“We will continue to assist the Hummel family to try to reach a satisfactory resolution for the health and well-being of Mr. Hummel…who bravely served our nation.”

Wimmer says Autumn Care called them after FOX 46’s story aired to criticize them for speaking to a reporter. Late in the day, she says the facility told them they would have to pay 30 days upfront as “self-pay.” At a cost of $270 a day, that would run the family $8100. It’s an amount they can’t afford.

Wimmer says the facility told them Medicare will refund them the money if the appeal is approved. Tillis’ office says they might not be following correct procedures.

“Medicare does not require patients to pay upfront for care even under appeals,” Tillis’ office told the family.

The family might be getting some help. Thirty minutes after our story aired Wednesday a viewer reached out, offering to pay for Hummel to stay for five nights at the facility.

“That is so generous,” Wimmer responded in an email.

FOX 46’s first report on Tuesday received more than 300 shares and more than 100 comments on Facebook.  

State Officials Respond

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services followed up with the facility on Tuesday, after being alerted to the situation by FOX 46.

“The facility assured our staff the resident’s needs will be met,” said spokesperson Kelly Connor.

Federal regulations require facilities to conduct “safe and orderly discharges,” Connor said, and must work with the resident and their family to assure that it is designed with the “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,” she said. “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.”

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