Tracey Mitchell was fine with the notion of placing her father in the care of a nursing home when it became necessary, and while he was there everyone was happy with the quality of care in the facility. In the years before the lawsuit when Mitchell’s father was a resident, there was no discussion of fees or bills for her father’s stay. But when Mitchell was served a lawsuit years into his stay, alleging she owed $49,000 for her father’s care, she was stunned.
When her father was admitted, Mitchell told the facility, Alaris Health at Cherry Hill, he didn’t have the means to pay, so she was told to file for Medicaid in his place and then to sign his admissions agreement. Then she was just told one day, mere months before her father’s death, that she owed the facility a massive amount of money. It turned out the document she signed on her father’s behalf put her next in line to pay whatever costs her father or Medicaid couldn’t take on, though before this time she’d never received a bill.
Even more stunning, when Mitchell consulted her attorney about the matter, she found out the contract she signed was illegal. In the document she is named a “third party to guarantee payment,” meaning whatever costs weren’t payed by her father or Medicaid, she would cover. However, under federal law and New Jersey state law, it is illegal for a nursing home to hold a third party liable for those costs.
The case is now over, but plenty of people are vulnerable to the kind of experience this family had. According to Mitchell’s lawyer, “[His] theory is if they sue 10 people like this, they will find maybe one with an attorney who knows the law and nine will pay.” It’s incredibly easy for a nursing home to find that a resident’s bills haven’t been payed off by the patient themselves or Medicaid and find the solution in an unknowing family member. Experts say the best course of action is to work with an attorney or a Medicaid specialist before signing these kinds of contracts to avoid running into issues with them later.