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By SAM ALLEN
and SCOTT BOWLEN
Daily News Staff Writers
A resident of Ketchikan's Pioneer Home is involved in suing Gov. Mike Dunleavy and other state officials over recent rate increases that significantly raise the cost of residing in the assisted living facility.
On Monday, lawyers acting on behalf of Eileen Casey of Ketchikan, and Marion, Howard and Brad Rider of Juneau, filed a class-action lawsuit in Ketchikan Superior Court to stop the rate increases.
“(Stopping) the Pioneers’ Homes from enforcing this catastrophic rate increase serves the public interest, and the interest of justice, by honoring the elders who built Alaska and making good on the state’s promise to provide quality, affordable care to those most invaluable of Alaska’s resources: its elder long-time Alaskans,” states the lawsuit filed by attorneys Vance Sanders and Libby Bakalar of Juneau.
Defendants in the case include the State of Alaska; Dunleavy; Adam Crum, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services; and Clinton Lasley, director of the Alaska Pioneers' Home and Alaska Veterans' Home.
The suit seeks a permanent injunction preventing the defendants from enforcing the monthly rate increases that would affect the nearly 500 residents at the six Pioneer Homes around the state.
Rates were increased effective Aug. 30, according to the lawsuit.
Residents at the two lowest levels of service saw monthly rate increases of 40%, while residents at “Level III” service had an increase of 65%, according to the lawsuit.
“Some residents have been, or imminently will be, elevated to new service levels, thus increasing some residents’ monthly rates by up to 140%,” states the lawsuit, noting a cost for the highest level of service at $15,000 per month.
In February, Dunleavy proposed $12.3 million in cuts to state funding for the Alaska Pioneer Homes, which the Alaska Legislature approved. In a Feb. 25 letter to Pioneer Home elders and families, Lasley wrote the governor’s objective was that the homes “must earn what we spend.”
According to the lawsuit, Lasley wrote that “to meet the expectation of a budget where expenditures cannot exceed existing revenue, I will be putting forward a regulation package in the coming days that align our rates with the cost of providing services."
Contacted by the Daily News on Tuesday, Lasley decline to comment on the ongoing legal suit.
The suit states that Casey, 84, saw cost of care increase from about $4,600 in September 2017, to $10,606 per month in mid-2019 when she was moved up to a higher level of care. Under the Aug. 30 regulations, she will be required to pay $11,815 per month.
The suit alleges that Casey has been twice "threatened" by the Pioneer Home with eviction due to her outstanding debt of $95,000.
Casey was approved for a Medicaid wavier on Sept. 1, which pays for much of the bill.
"Eviction has so far been averted, but there is no assurance that she will be permitted to remain in the Ketchikan Pioneer Home, even with Medicaid paying the lion's share of her ongoing cost of care...," the lawsuit states.
Lasley and Crum both previously stated that residents will not face eviction for non-payment of increased rates.
Howard Rider, 93, and Marion Rider, 91, are married residents of Juneau Pioneer Home. The couples' son, Brad, is acting on their behalf.
Marion Rider saw her monthly rate increase from $4,692 to $11,185 on Nov. 1.
The class-action suit is on behalf of all people who are similarly situated.
Maria Bahr, state ethics attorney for the Alaska Department of Law, said her office learned of the lawsuit on Monday and will need time to review and respond to the complaint. As of Tuesday, an attorney has not been assigned to the case, according to Bahr.
The Ketchikan Pioneer Home opened its doors in 1981 and currently cares for 45 residents. Staffing levels have dropped this year from 65 to 47, as the food service, laundry and housekeeping services have been contracted out, according to Ketchikan Pioneer Home Administrator Julie Sande, who said she could not comment on the ongoing civil suit.
In addition to Ketchikan, there are Pioneer Homes in Sitka, Juneau, Anchorage, Palmer and Fairbanks.