Bamboozled: Assisted living takes care

The decision to move an elderly loved one into an assisted-living or nursing-care facility is an emotional one.BB branding

There are also large financial implications.

Seymour Arnstein, 69, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and occasional dementia. When his family decided it was time for their dad to get more care, they turned to the Cedar Crest properties.

In 2007, Arnstein moved into an independent living facility that’s part of the Cedar Crest campus in Pompton Plains. His assets covered a $252,000 “buy-in” fee, and there were varying monthly costs based on the services provided.

In 2009, Arnstein needed a higher level of care. He relocated to a 90-square-foot apartment (not counting the bathroom or closet area) in Renaissance Gardens, the assisted-living part of the Cedar Crest community.

The family said they were happy with the level of care, but in the summer of 2010, they decided to move Seymour to an apartment in Yonkers, N.Y., to be closer to son Michael Arnstein.

The family hired a full-time aide, costing $1,400 a week, so Seymour could have one-on-one help. It was costly, but they knew the $252,000 “buy-in” fee would soon be returned to help pay the bills.

It didn’t happen that way.

The Early Efforts

When it came time to settle the finances with Cedar Crest, the family said, they were shocked with the move-out charges.

21411Unless they’d agree to the move-out charges—$2,503 in “refurbishing charges” and a $7,500 charge to cover the time the apartment would be empty before a new resident could move in—Renaissance Gardens would not return the $252,000.

Son Jesse Arnstein, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, said he felt the facility was holding his dad’s buy-in fee for ransom.

“I found this figure to be inflated and unreasonable for a one-room apartment,” said Jesse Arnstein.

He said all his efforts to resolve this directly with Cedar Crest were futile. Over the course of six months, Jesse Arnstein tried to negotiate with, argue with and make requests of the Cedar Crest organization to give a better explanation of the charges.

Jesse Arnstein shared with Bamboozled a series of e-mails between himself and the business office manager at Renaissance Gardens.

The younger Arnstein asked the facility to provide receipts showing the cost of the work that was done to his dad’s room, and he also asked for an explanation of the $7,500 charge for when the apartment was vacant.

Renaissance Gardens said there were no receipts, but it didn’t explain why, and the $7,500 charge was part of the original contract. It’s a monthly service fee covering 90 days during which renovations are done and an apartment may be empty. If a new resident moves in before those 90 days are up, the old resident would be returned part of the fee.

The Arnsteins had trouble accepting those answers.

“It’s challenging to determine if expenses are legitimate and bona fide,” Jesse Arnstein said.

“If Cedar Crest had receipts, I would give their claims of costs more credence. It’s hard to accept a fee when there is no receipt.”

Arnstein said he was willing to pay for refurbishing, but he thought the $2,503 was unreasonable for a 90-square-foot apartment.

On the $7,500 fee, Arnstein said yes, he did see the clause in the paperwork, but he didn’t think it was a fair charge.

He said the facility had a resident who was ready to move in quickly, yet delays on the part of Renaissance Gardens meant no one moved in until Oct. 23 — something for which Arnstein doesn’t think his father should be held responsible.

“I felt they delayed the process unnecessarily,” he said. “I also happen to think that clause is unconscionable. It seems like a windfall for the facility. Rent and fees are paid even though there are no services provided during this period.”

Weary of the fight and wanting to get his dad’s money back, Arnstein sent one more letter to Renaissance Gardens dated Dec. 19. He asked for a fee reduction of $4,250: $1,250 off the refurbishing fee and $3,000 back for the nearly four weeks the apartment stood empty.

After a month with no response, Arnstein contacted Bamboozled.

Cleaning up the bill

We called Renaissance Gardens to get its take on the billing dispute.

The company wouldn’t talk details about Arnstein’s move-out, but spokesman Tony Ciavolella agreed to review the case. Before the week was out, he said the case was resolved.

Jesse Arnstein confirmed Cedar Crest agreed to a fee reduction of $4,250 — exactly what Arnstein offered in the Dec. 19 letter. That amounted to a lower refurbishing fee and a smaller fee for the amount of time before a new resident could move into the apartment.

Once Arnstein received the revised bill, he mailed a check, and he’s now waiting for the return of the buy-in fee.

Be and educated buyer

We’re glad to hear the Arnsteins and Cedar Crest could come to a mutual agreement, but this case spotlights a very important lesson for consumers.

Moving a loved one into any kind of assisted-living or nursing-care facility is a time of tremendous stress and worry. It’s a challenge to pay attention to the paperwork. Still, you’re responsible for what you agree to on behalf of your loved one.

If you don’t feel you’re of the right mind to pay attention to the details, enlist the help of someone, anyone, to back you up. Ask a friend, an attorney or a financial adviser to review the financial commitment you’re about to make.

“It involves a substantial financial investment and evaluating the disclosure statement and contract is of the upmost importance,” said Cedar Crest’s Ciavolella, who agrees that talking to an attorney or financial adviser is a smart move.

Then, ask questions if there’s anything you’re not sure about. After your loved one moves in and you’ve signed documents, it’s too late to negotiate. Sure, you can always move your relative to another facility, but the move may be tough on your loved one — and on you.