The 88-year-old mother of Vicki King and Dee Dee Barnhill died in October, and the assisted living center where she resided wants to charge her surviving relatives $929.17 because they didn't give 30 days' notice that their mother no longer would need her little apartment. Basically, the way they see it, they're being billed for not knowing the exact date their mother would die.
I'll give you a few seconds to reread those sentences. (Pause.)
I had the same reaction: Does this really happen in the world of assisted living? They charge people if they don't give a full 30 days' notice of death?
Ms. King and Ms. Barnhill say yes, that they went over this with the nice people at the assisted living center, and the nice people at the assisted living center intend to press for the extra $929.17.
Ms. King and Ms. Barnhill say their mother, Ruth Lloyd, entered the center in Harford County last June, at an out-of-pocket cost of $5,575 per month.
"Her dementia had made it impossible for her to continue living alone," Ms. King explains. Ruth Lloyd lived in a special dementia unit until Sunday, Oct. 4, when her condition worsened and she had trouble breathing.
"The [assisted living center] called 911 for her and she was transported to Upper Chesapeake Hospital in Bel Air, where she was intubated to keep her alive," says Ms. King. "We were told she could live 15 seconds to two weeks after they removed the tube. She died between 4 and 5 o'clock on the morning of Oct. 6."
The funeral was a few days later. Then her daughters cleared Ruth Lloyd's belongings from her apartment.
Ms. Barnhill says she already had paid her mother's October bill in full.
But then, sometime after that, another bill arrived - for $929.17. When she asked for an explanation of this extra charge, Ms. Barnhill says she was told it was rental for the first six days in November. The family was supposed to give the assisted living center fully 30 days' notice that Ruth Lloyd would be vacating the room.
"We said, 'She died!'" Ms. King says, incredulous. "They said, 'It's in the contract,' and, sure enough, it was."
Ms. Barnhill concurred and furnished a copy of the relevant section of the contract she had signed for her mother earlier this year:
"Resident may terminate this Agreement for any reason, including a medical emergency that causes Resident to require care or service that exceeds the level of care for which the Provider is license to provide or death of Resident, upon not less than thirty (30) days prior written notice to Provider."
I can understand requiring 30 days' notice, and charging for the full month of rent otherwise, especially if your tenant runs out on you and you can't find another one right away.
But in the event of death?
Are things so bad in the assisted living business that they have to squeeze every last drop, an extra 30 days' rent even if grandma doesn't live there - or anywhere - anymore?
Leslie Robinson, regional director of operations for the Shelter Group Inc., which owns the assisted living center where Ruth Lloyd spent the last four months of her life, says, indeed, the 30 days' notice is required, even in the event of death. "Our residency agreement is very similar to a rental agreement," she says. "Many of our families appreciate being given the time to clear out their relative's belongings while in the grieving process."
Yes, but is it necessary to charge for a full 30 days when it may not be needed and the cause for the sudden vacancy is death?
"It's actually a standard part of contracts," Ms. Robinson says, offering to get in touch with Ruth Lloyd's daughters to explain.
But they've already heard the explanation.
"It's insulting and absurd," says Ms. Barnhill.
"It might be legal, but it is, in my mind, immoral," says Ms. King.
It's at least cheesy.
Ms. Barnhill says she paid the $929.17 anyway, online, this week, and hopefully she's done with the whole thing. "But the bill was due Dec. 1," she says. "There'll probably be another bill with late charges."
Dan Rodricks' column appears Thursdays and Sundays in print and online, and Tuesdays online-only. He is host of the Midday talk show on WYPR-FM.