Advocacy on bill questioned Young defends his work on measure to benefit some nursing homes.

May 04, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Near the end of the 1992 General Assembly session, nursing home lobbyists perched along the Senate gallery's white marble railing like birds on a telephone wire, waiting for a vote that could have brought their industry $24 million.

Lobbyists aren't allowed to speak during Senate debate. But their bill had an official voice.

Sen. Larry Young, a Baltimore Democrat and once a paid consultant for nursing homes in Maryland, was sponsor and floor manager of the bill they wanted.

As recently as December, he was on the payroll of a nursing home association that had contemplated making him its interim director. He also had been a paid consultant to Sonya Gershowitz Goodman, a nursing home owner, operator and consultant.

During his unsuccessful 1987 campaign for president of the Baltimore City Council, Mrs. Goodman lent Mr. Young $80,000. And $36,500 of that loan remained unpaid even as he spoke for the bill she wanted.

Mr. Young argued that the bill he was pushing would have promoted the welfare of nursing home operators statewide.

Nelson J. Sabatini, Maryland's secretary of health and mental hygiene, agreed with Mr. Young's assessment. The bill also fit in with the state's plans, because 60 percent of the nursing home patients in Maryland are cared for under the hard-hit Medicaid program.

The legislation would have restored up to $24 million in Medicaid cuts imposed by the state in recent years to make up for revenue losses induced by the recession.

Under the bill backed by Mr. Young, nursing homes with a high percentage of Medicaid patients would have been big winners.

Mrs. Goodman and her husband own Irvington Knolls Care Center on South Athol Avenue in Baltimore. Some 138 of the 150 beds there are occupied by Medicaid patients. In 1991, Irvington Knolls collected $2.8 million in combined state and federal Medicaid funds.

The bill sought to increase the federal share of Maryland's Medicaid program by imposing a fee on nursing home beds: The higher the state's reimbursable costs, the higher the federal payment. Some call this approach "creative financing." Some call it scamming the feds. But the practice is legal.

Mr. Young says he was thinking only of the state's needs and the needs of the patients when he spoke for the bill. He says he gave no thought to the $36,500 his campaign owes Mrs. Goodman. The senator says he felt no obligation or pressure to support and promote a bill she wanted.

"It's not something we discussed. She has not asked me about the money," he says. "I've had people from nursing homes all over the state advocating and pushing for this thing and they don't owe me a dime."

But Senator Young should have been more sensitive to the potential conflict of interest, says Deborah Povitch, assistant director of Maryland Common Cause, the lobby for citizens.

Ms. Povitch says she thinks "significant campaign contributions" such as the $80,000 loan create a conflict of interest under the legislature's ethics guidelines.

An obligation of this magnitude "puts in question any impartiality a legislator can have on an issue .. .. .. ,"she said

Ms. Povitch says Senator Young should have excused himself from voting or advocating any position on the fee legislation.

While the Senate passed the bill Mr. Young advocated on the last day of the session, it died without action in the House.

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