ST. PETERSBURG — The state is cutting a troubled nursing home's eligibility to receive Medicaid money, a move that will likely force dozens of patients to move and could result in the facility's closure.
Operators of the center say the displacement would harm the patients, many of whom have severe psychiatric conditions, and they are appealing the action.
The Agency for Health Care Administration notified patients in a letter Monday that it is ending the Rehabilitation Center of St. Petersburg's eligibility as a Medicaid provider, effective Sunday. The center, at 435 42nd Ave. S, is owned by a corporation called Bayou Shores and houses more than 100 residents. Many suffer from psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or similar disorders.
"If Bayou Shores remains open and licensed after Oct. 18, you may choose to continue to live at this facility, but Medicaid will not pay for your nursing facility services," wrote Don Fuller, manager of the AHCA's St. Petersburg field office.
The reason for the termination dates to July 2014, when the AHCA moved to end the center's federal reimbursements after inspectors saw violations that "constituted immediate jeopardy to residents' health and safety, and substandard quality of care." According to court documents filed by the agency, inspectors found expired medication, learned a convicted sex offender placed in a room with a paralyzed stroke patient attempted to molest the patient and found that a patient with dementia had wandered away from a secured unit and made it to a bus stop.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services notified Bayou Shores it would be terminated from Medicare effective Aug. 3, 2014. Under federal law, a state is required to terminate its Medicaid agreement when a provider is terminated from Medicare, AHCA spokeswoman Mallory Deason said in an email Monday.
Bayou Shores responded with a lawsuit, claiming it addressed the problems. When that failed, the center filed for bankruptcy and obtained an injunction to keep the CMS from pulling financial support. But a federal judge in Tampa ruled in June that the bankruptcy court erred when it assumed jurisdiction over the federal government's decision to pull funding.
The following month, the court issued a stay delaying the effect of the ruling until Oct. 19 so that Bayou Shores could make arrangements for patients who would need to move, according to Deason's email. The stay was later extended indefinitely after Bayou Shores appealed, but last week, the appeals court changed the deadline back to Oct. 19.
The letter from Fuller of the AHCA cites a state law that requires nursing homes to give patients 30 days' notice before a discharge or transfer. But if a patient must stay after Sunday, the facility will have to absorb the cost, said Fernando Gutierrez, a registered professional guardian who has 11 patients at the center. That effectively gives them seven days to move out.
Some of the patients require secure facilities and there are few of those in the region, Gutierrez said. Some patients won't want to move far because they have family members in the area. One has lived at the center for 30 years and is visited regularly by his elderly father, who drives from Lakeland.
Seven days is not enough time, Gutierrez said. "It's unfair. It's unreasonable. There's no mercy, and these people can't defend themselves."
A statement released Monday by center administrator Andrea Pankhurst said the state has reached a "new all-time low" by pulling funding from vulnerable patients and "effectively forcing them to be displaced to, at best, strange facilities and, at worst, inappropriate centers where they run substantial risk of decline or even death."
The statement said the center is appealing the decision in federal court and residents will file an emergency motion in state court.
Since the initial problems in 2014, it has been confirmed that "the facility is operating well," the statement said. "In fact, the facility has been deficiency free for more than one year."
Contact Tony Marrero at email@example.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes.