Down Manor officials have admitted that the senior housing complex could face fines for providing personal care services without a license -- but said the business was only trying to preserve its clients' high quality of life.
An investigation by the state Department of Justice is underway to determine if any action should be taken against the 99-unit independent living facility that opened in 1989 at 3260 Brookside Dr.
"We basically blew the whistle on ourselves," said Jonathan Emerson, head of the three Hood River senior and disabled housing projects owned and managed by the Providence health care network.
Shortly after Emerson -- whose background includes opening 172 assisted living facilities in nine different states -- took the helm in May, he learned about the provision of illegal services. During a routine briefing, Emerson said he was told that employees had been providing between 10-12 Down Manor residents help with daily dressing, bathing, etc., since the opening of the facility, which have been managed by Providence since 1998.
He also found out that caregivers had been issuing medication reminders -- all services which are prohibited without special state licensing.
"They were doing it out of tremendous compassion and goodwill and the residents were happy but there was no way we could continue to provide these services, it was just not possible," said Emerson.
At that point, he said the hospital faced a tough decision, cut off personal care services immediately, which would distress needy clients, or give them 30 days and a listing of referrals so they could hire qualified outside help.
"We really struggled internally out of a sense of compassion for the residents because we were not going to leave anyone unserviced," said Emerson.
He said the hospital decided by the first of July that it had no choice but to give Down Manor occupants one month of adjustment time -- even if it was then penalized because it had continued its unauthorized actions with full knowledge.
"When in doubt you do everything you can to accommodate the residents and give them assistance in finding caregivers," he said.
However, Emerson said the final irony is that complaints filed about the discontinuance of services led to the state investigation. When an 88-year-old Down Manor resident became ill after over-medicating himself because he couldn't remember taking a prior dosage that same day, his family members filed a grievance with Tom Kelley, Hood River's investigator for Senior and People with Disabilities Services. (The family asked to remain unidentified.)
That complaint termed Down Manor's actions as consumer fraud since the business advertised personal care which had been instrumental in the family's choice to place their relative there. The complaintants said they were ultimately forced to traumatize the elderly man by moving him from his home of five years because he could not mentally or physically cope with the withdrawal of on-site services.
In fact, the family charges that Down Manor continued to post the availability of personal care assistance on the internet until mid-July when Kelley addressed Emerson about the issue and it was pulled.
Emerson said Down Manor never intentionally tried to mislead its clients or their family members. He said the small number of residents requiring daily living assistance have all turned down the offer to move into Brookside Manor, the hospital's assisted living facility. Instead they have chosen to hire the help they need, which Emerson said is not upping their living expenses since they were already paying between $400-$600 in monthly fees for the extra services.