Keswick, Mitchell end bill dispute

Ex-congressman moves to Towson nursing home

July 02, 2003|By Walter F. Roche Jr. and Ivan Penn | Walter F. Roche Jr. and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Former U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell moved this week to another nursing home, and a dispute with officials of the Keswick Multi-Care Center over a substantial amount in unpaid bills has been resolved.

Arthur M. Frank, the attorney for the retired Baltimore congressman, confirmed yesterday that Mitchell, 81, was moved Monday from Keswick in Roland Park to HCR Manor Care-Ruxton, a 206-bed facility at 7001 N. Charles St. in Towson.

Frank said the transfer was for health reasons, but he declined to elaborate. Mitchell had been at Keswick since April 27, 2000, records show.

"What led to the decision to move him is confidential," Frank said. "It's health-related issues."

John F. Morkan III, Keswick's attorney, said Mitchell's departure was voluntary and that the dispute over unpaid bills had been resolved.

"It was a significant amount, but it was resolved. There is no unpaid balance," said Morkan.

Frank acknowledged in a brief interview that Keswick had attempted to have Mitchell's federal pension sent directly to the facility, but he said the facility never gained control over the money or received any payments as a result.

"They requested it, and the pension board ruled against them," Frank said.

Records obtained by The Sun under the federal Freedom of Information Act from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board show that Keswick officials briefly obtained control of Mitchell's pension, but that action was later overturned.

In a 13-page decision issued Oct. 15, Administrative Judge Michael H. Garrety concluded that Keswick and its attorneys had failed to prove that Mitchell was incapable of managing his financial affairs.

Garrety's decision overturned a May 31 order last year from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which had given Keswick control of the former congressman's monthly retirement benefits.

The records released by the board do not disclose the exact amount of Mitchell's pension, but an estimate by the National Taxpayers Union puts the Democrat's annual pension at $60,070.

The board decision also pointed to an affidavit submitted by Mitchell contending that Keswick was not "a disinterested party," because the nursing home "has asserted a claim against him for a substantial sum of money for health care services it has provided him."

According to the decision, Mitchell called the amount being claimed by the nursing home "exorbitant."

The Sun reported last year that more than $100,000 in bills for Mitchell's care at Keswick had gone unpaid while his finances were being handled by his nephew, Michael B. Mitchell. Frank has since replaced Michael Mitchell in overseeing the former congressman's financial affairs.

The congressman subsequently filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against The Sun and two of its reporters. contending that they trespassed and invaded his privacy when they visited him at Keswick in preparation for the article. The lawsuit is pending.

In his decision, Garrety said that while Parren Mitchell has multiple health problems, the evidence presented by Keswick was not sufficient to show that he was incompetent.

The nursing home had submitted three affidavits, including one from the medical director at the facility who said Mitchell "has a number of serious medical problems, including a cognitive disorder."

But the judge did not find the affidavits sufficient.

"The appellant has a number of health problems, and he does not assert that he is able to manage his financial affairs without assistance. Nevertheless, the evidence he submitted on appeal shows that he is informed about his financial affairs and capable of making decisions about how he wishes them to be handled," the decision states.

The Office of Personnel Management had concluded that Mitchell "would be better served if someone received annuity payments on his behalf and managed his financial affairs for him."

Mitchell's attorney also contended that the Office of Personnel Management acted improperly when it ordered his pension diverted to Keswick because the agency did so without informing Mitchell of the impending action.

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