Due to ever-tightening Medicaid payments, a dozen residents of Elizabeth City’s Waterbrooke assisted living facility are struggling to afford their medications and even basic hygiene items.
Waterbrooke administrators Jessica Matthews and Taylor Bray said Thursday that a number of their residents are “in the negative,” due to their “personal needs allowance” through Medicaid not covering their full costs of prescriptions, medical co-pays and hygiene items.
That allowance is only $66 a month, they say, and it goes very fast when someone is elderly or disabled and have no family or friends to help them out. One woman is $171 in the red, Matthews said. She’s trying to make ends meet while in Waterbrooke’s special care unit that’s reserved for patients whose health conditions require constant attention.
Those patients’ needs prompted Waterbrooke to plea for community assistance last week, reaching out via email and through the Elizabeth City Chamber of Commerce for donations to assist residents.
Thanks to some Good Samaritans — one writing the facility a $600 check despite being a stranger to it — about half the residents are on better footing for the next few months. Some community members have even “adopted” individual residents, committing to continued help for them.
The residents are in no danger of being evicted due to their negative balances, Matthews said. However, it takes a toll on their health and well-being when they can’t regularly afford prescription co-pays and basic items like soap and shampoo.
Matthews said Waterbrooke, most of whose patients are on Medicare and Medicaid, tries to help fill in gaps in residents’ care. Staff sometimes spend out of their own pockets to help residents, she said, but that can’t match the level of need.
Medicaid reimbursements are pinching Waterbrooke as well, Matthews said, leaving it unable to cover hygiene supplies for all its patients as some facilities can.
She said state-imposed Medicaid cuts this year knocked 10 percent off payments for Personal Care Services and forced the facility to bear the costs of medical transports for residents.
Additionally, state-county “Special Assistance” payments to help pay residents’ room and board have remained stagnant for the last five years, according to state advocacy group NC Association, Long Term Care Facilities.
And, unlike other businesses, Waterbrooke can’t simply increase prices to offset Medicaid cuts; it has to live within what the government will pay, Matthews and Taylor explained.
“To be blunt, it’s sad,” Bray said of the Medicaid cuts. She said many of Waterbrooke’s patients face disabling ailments like blindness, dementia and schizophrenia. With many residents also elderly, she hoped the community would help those “who have given so much already.”
Both also expressed relief that the General Assembly has stepped back from a controversial budget proposal to tighten Medicaid eligibility for those receiving “Special Assistance” or “medically needy” support.
The state Senate proposed that cost-saving move in its budget last month. The tightened standards would’ve forced thousands of elderly and/or disabled people off Medicaid, including in Waterbrooke and other local assisted living facilities. The state House has stripped those cuts from the latest versions of the budget.
“If the first budget had passed, a lot of (our) residents would be on the street,” Bray said.
Matthews estimated that about a dozen Waterbrooke residents would’ve been evicted under the budget — different patients than the ones in need of donations, she said. The eligibility changes would’ve lowered the maximum monthly incomes people receiving Special Assistance payments could have to also receive Medicaid, from $1,182 a month to $973.
Matthews said anyone willing to donate money or hygienic supplies — including razors, soap, shampoos, lotions and body powders — should contact her or Bray at 331-2149.