Vermont seniors struggle to find Medicaid beds in care facilities

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vermont (WCAX) — A South Burlington assisted living facility is closing several of its units for renovations. The changes will displace 16 seniors. But the situation raises broader questions about how Vermont supports and funds elder care.

Shelley Spinner’s mother-in-law, Sylvia, has lived at Gazebo Senior Living in South Burlington for 12 years.

“She thought it was her last home. Being 87 and being frail and finding out you have to move was heartbreaking for her,” Spinner said.

She got a letter two weeks ago saying everyone in Sylvia’s apartment building has 90 days to find a new home.

Staff members say this will displace around 16 residents and almost all have been able to find accommodation.

Gazebo is a private fee-paying independent living and residential care facility where seniors live in their own apartments but receive extra help with daily tasks like grocery shopping and administering medication.

Gazebo says the economy and senior care have changed dramatically over the past few years and they need to renovate to stay competitive.

Sylvia paid Gazebo monthly for her apartment and additional care, liquidating her savings.

Now she can no longer afford a private payment facility and qualifies for Medicaid. But she’s having trouble finding a facility with an open Medicaid bed.

Spinner says she understands the staffing and financial pressures that Gazebo is under.

Gazebo employees say that while they don’t accept Medicaid, they frequently receive calls from families seeking Medicaid placements.

“People just need to be told often what exactly the program is, how they qualify for it, what they need to qualify. It’s not just financial, it’s also a medical need,” said Erin Knox, Director of Sales and Operations for Gazebo Senior Living.

Lawmakers say Vermont has struck a balance between helping seniors get care at home and placing them in a facility.

“The more we can continue to provide those home options with supports, it’s cheaper, it’s better for people, but we won’t be able to rely on that when people need higher levels of care,” said Rep. Anne Donahue, R.-Northfield.

Now, with nearly a quarter of Vermont’s population over the age of 65, Donahue says staffing for care will likely cost more.

Back in South Burlington, Spinner’s mother-in-law was able to find a room at the Converse Home in Burlington covered by Medicaid. But Spinner wishes there were more options. She describes the situation as a balance between the haves and the have-nots.

“If you have, you have a lot more options and if you’re one of the have-nots, then it’s a lot more work for you,” Spinner said.

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