Emerald Bay executives say Medicaid evictions are necessary

Owners explain reason for evictions
Published: Feb. 2, 2023 at 3:39 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 2, 2023 at 4:24 PM CST
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HOBART, Wis. (WBAY) - Executives at a Brown County retirement community held a news conference Thursday morning to explain why they say they’re forced to evict 15 people from their complex in Hobart by the end of the month.

Emerald Bay officials say this was a tough decision but one they had to make based on finances.

“It wasn’t an easy decision. We’re not in the business of asking people to leave,” Kathy Tegen, CEO of BAKA Enterprises Inc., which owns Emerald Bay.

As we were first to report, these notices to vacate went out on Monday, giving residents 30 days notice. Since then, we’ve been hearing from residents and their family members.

Thursday, Emerald Bay officials spoke on-camera for the first time, telling us Medicaid reimbursements haven’t kept up with rising inflation since the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the decision to stop accepting Medicaid at the Emerald Bay Retirement Community and Memory Care facility in Hobart is a tough one, officials there say it’s a financial decision that was in the best interest of everyone since the cost of what Medicaid didn’t cover was being passed onto other residents who pay out of their own pocket.

“The management team came together. We looked at the numbers. I’m not going to give my residents 12-, 18-, 24-percent increases. I’m not doing it. When we moved all of our folks in we promised to keep them safe, and that means being fiscally responsible to them,” said Tegen.

“At Green Bay, it’s very much a blue-collar community. Our folks don’t have that kind of money. We can’t keep passing on economic crazy to our folks in our 80′s and 90′s. We can’t. They can’t bear it. So we had to make a lot of changes,” she said.

In a news conference over Zoom, the owners told us they tried to negotiate a better rate with the Lakeland Care District, which is the managed care provider for Medicaid residents at Emerald Bay.

Lakeland Care told us the discussions started in December when it became aware that Emerald Bay was charging its members above the negotiated rate. “Our residential rates are determined, negotiated, and locked into a contract, based on the individual needs of each member,” the statement read.

Emerald Bay said when negotiations failed, the only option was to opt out of the contract.

Emerald Bay says it only allows 10% of its units to be used for Medicaid residents.

They include Phyllis Bartlett, whose family spoke to us about the decision, not knowing where she will go next.

“I like it here because they’re nice to me,” Bartlett said, “and part of why I live here is, I don’t want to go and bother my kids. You know what I’m trying to say.”

“It breaks my heart, and shame on them for doing this,” her daughter-in-law, Carey Bartlett, said. “Grandfather these people in or something. It’s going to be really hard on my mother-in-law.”

“I don’t think that anyone is really cognizant of the effect that COVID’s had, and what’s really about to happen in the next year or two,” Tegen said. “In senior living, I don’t predict we’re going to be able to staff. Everywhere you go there’s new hire signs. How much higher can we raise are wages? We’re the highest in the county next to Woodside.”

She continued, “We already are overwhelmed with the increase in wages. It’s huge. I can’t even tell you how high payroll is. We went from an average of $16 an hour to $20-plus an hour, full benefits packages, because if you are unaware, there’s no staff. And who wants to come and care for the elderly? It’s a tough job.”

Emerald Bay also cited the rising cost of food, gas, and utilities as contributing to the decision.

The problem with Medicaid isn’t isolated to Emerald Bay. Facilities across the state are struggling with rising costs.

BAKA Enterprises Chief Operating Officer Barbara Bittner added, “This is the tip of the iceberg. We have lost so many assisted living communities, especially smaller communities, smaller operators, who have not been able to sustain through the pandemic with the support, with the PPE, because they don’t have adequate reimbursement.”

“It’s a huge issue that we’ve got to address -- not just in our county or state, we need to address it nationally, because the largest group of seniors to ever sweep this nation is about to hit,” Tegen said.

We’re told by the Lakeland Care District that 6 of the 15 people being evicted have been placed elsewhere, but family members tell us no one is being assured of placement in Brown County. Many facilities have a waiting list up to 6 months.