SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 3, 2014

Nursing home sought donations for DeLeo

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — A nursing home in Beverly has asked families of residents to donate to House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s re-election campaign, a practice that one election reform advocate called “a classic example of illegal bundling.”

A spokeswoman for DeLeo’s campaign committee said he had no knowledge of the nursing home’s solicitation effort on his behalf and will not accept the donations.

In a Feb. 24 letter, Essex Park Rehabilitation and Nursing Center executive director Frank Silvia urged families to write checks to DeLeo’s re-election campaign and mail them to the nursing home or leave them at the reception desk.

Silvia said the donations would support the cause of fighting cuts to Medicaid reimbursement for nursing homes, which he said “would have a drastic impact on our ability to meet the needs of your loved ones residing at Essex Park.”

A sign in the nursing home lobby also urges visitors to write a check to DeLeo’s campaign and leave it at the reception desk.

The letter said Essex Park would collect the donations for DeLeo and deliver them today. “We need to support those legislators who are supporting our cause,” the letter said.

Silvia could not be reached for comment. When contacted by The Salem News, Essex Park’s parent company called the letter an “inadvertent error.”

The company, HealthBridge Management, said it would retract the letter and return any donations that have been made.

“Our company welcomes grass-roots advocacy on the part of our facility residents and their families in seeking adequate Medicaid funds to be able to attract and retain the skilled nursing care so vital to our state’s medical system,” HealthBridge Management Vice President of Operations Sharon Donaghue said in a statement. “However, we do not support either the endorsement of any specific candidate or the collection of funds at our facilities.”

HealthBridge Management is a New Jersey-based company that operates 27 nursing homes and rehabilitation centers in five states. It runs 15 facilities in Massachusetts, including Essex Park, a 202-bed facility on Essex Street in Beverly, and Peabody Glen Health Care Center on Route 114 in Peabody.

The company did not respond to questions about whether similar letters were sent to families at their other facilities.

Pamela Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause, said corporations are not allowed to contribute to candidates. Gathering checks from other people and presenting them to the candidate’s campaign “is essentially the same thing as making contributions themselves,” she said.

“It looks like a rather ham-handed attempt to flex political muscle, and that’s not the way we want to see our industries making their case,” Wilmot said.

Jason Tait, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, said he could not comment on individual cases.

In general, Tait described bundling as “the practice of gathering a number of contributions from different individuals and delivering them to a candidate or candidate’s political committee.”

DeLeo spokesman Seth Gitell referred questions about the Essex Park letter to DeLeo’s campaign committee. Gemma Martin, the assistant treasurer for the DeLeo campaign, said the state representative from Winthrop was unaware of Essex Park’s solicitation and will not accept the donations.

DeLeo is scheduled to attend an upcoming fundraiser organized by the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. In a statement, the organization said it encourages family members of residents to become involved in “grass-roots advocacy” for resident care, but does not “condone the solicitation of family members for political fundraisers.”

The Massachusetts Senior Care Association supports a bill pending in the state Legislature that would increase Medicaid payments to nursing homes.

The state Medicaid program pays for the care of about two-thirds of nursing home residents in Massachusetts, according to the association. The reimbursements are $37 per day below the cost of patient care, the association says.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.