YAKIMA, Wash. - Across the country, people are being kicked out of assisted living facilities because they run out of money and need to go on Medicaid, a government program that pays for long-term care of low-income residents.
Washington State enacted a law in the spring to stop Medicaid evictions, but the KING 5 Investigators discovered a loophole that's allowing them to continue, with the elderly and disabled paying the price.
John Rush, nicknamed Jack, is trying to adjust to his new life at The Ponderosa in Yakima. Jack still doesn't understand why he had to move out of the assisted living facility across town that was his home for eight years.
"I was sad," he said.
At 56, Jack has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old. His family carefully chose Blossom House for him and his mother. She died in 2005, but Jack loved it there and stayed on.
Then last May, after paying more than $400,000 to Blossom House over eight years, the Rush family says it ran out of money. Ed is Jack's brother and legal guardian. He says he spent his own inheritance - and Jack's inheritance - keeping Jack at Blossom House.
Ed says with the family's resources exhausted, they tried to convert Jack to Medicaid. He said: "Very shortly after that they gave notice that they were evicting him."
Blossom House is home to many people who depend on Medicaid, and the Rushes believed Jack could convert when he needed to.
"We understood from them it's not unusual," Ed Rush said. "It would just be a paperwork transition We felt betrayed."
Jack blamed himself, thinking he was being kicked out because he hadn't made his bed. But it wasn't just happening to Jack.
The KING 5 Investigators examined state data involving people on Medicaid. We found complaints of evictions up 62 percent since 2004 at assisted living facilities. Just this past year, 19 facilities were cited a total of 137 times for violating state laws. Blossom House had the most, with 20 citations. It's owned by Assisted Living Concepts, which has made headlines for its decision to phase out Medicaid at many of its facilities across the country.
We had a lot of questions for Blossom House, but no one there would talk to us. They referred us to Assisted Living Concepts, which is based in Wisconsin.
During a telephone interview, President and C.E.O. of Assisted Living Concepts Laurie Bebo said the company is not being cold hearted -- it's trying to stay in business.
"Medicaid covers about 60 percent of the cost of care," Bebo said. "Through attrition we are reducing the number of Medicaid beds available."
But Louise Ryan, Washington's long-term care ombudsman, says Assisted Living Concepts made a lot of promises when people moved in.
"And now they're backing out on that promise," Ryan said. "They're choosing to have buildings go almost empty rather than have people there on Medicaid."
Evictions have become so problematic that the state legislature enacted a law last spring that says if a facility cancels its Medicaid contract, it must let people already on Medicaid stay and allow residents to go on Medicaid if they've been paying privately for two years.
But that didn't stop Assisted Living Concepts from telling Jack Rush he had to leave.
"Well, they're getting around the law because they're not discontinuing their Medicaid contract," Ryan said. "They're just on an individual basis denying people to convert to Medicaid."
In fact a facility can choose to designate just one bed for Medicaid and still keep its contract.
Assisted Living Concepts has made it clear no one is exempt.
Ninety-nine-year-old Cordelia Robertson has lived at Assisted Living Concepts' Sumner facility, Franklin House, for 10 years.
"It is a good place," her son Gene Robertson said. "And this is why I'm so upset. They promised us that when she ran out of money, she could apply for Medicaid and it would be a seamless transfer."
Cordelia paid $330,000, but when she needed to convert to Medicaid, she was asked to leave.
"They promised it would be no problem," Gene said. "And then after she ran out of money, they said 'oh, we're not doing that anymore.'"
Assisted Living Concepts sued to evict Cordelia Robertson, but abruptly dropped the lawsuit four days after the KING 5 Investigators paid a visit to Franklin House and right before corporate managers were scheduled for depositions.
However, they're still not letting her go on Medicaid.
"No one at the facility is being transitioned to Medicaid," Bebo told us.
Bebo would not talk about Cordelia's case except to confirm that she is still at Franklin House.
Gene Robertson says his mother continues to be billed the private pay rate and now owes nearly $30,000 in back room and board.
More:Watch our to find out why we pursued this story. to learn more about the number of people on Medicaid who live in long-term care facilities in Washington state.