Like a lot of families with autistic and disabled children, I’ve been wondering — worrying — about what the projected cuts to the Medicaid and Medicare will mean for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. My son Charlie is 14 and he’ll soon be an adult, aging out of school services, and in need of housing in a group home or other community setting in a few years. A New York Times investigation into Medicaid fraud at Young Adult Institute Network (YAI), a nonprofit organization that runs group homes and provides services for individuals with developmental and physical disabilities, reveals some deeply disturbing practices including huge salaries (nearly a half-million dollars) for the two top executives, Philip and Joel Levy, and college tuition payments for employees’ children. Philip Levy charged YAI $50,400 one year so his daughter could live in Greenwich Village while attending graduate school at New York University.
Four YAI executives received compensation in excess of $500,000 in 2009, far more than any other similar New York organization. Joel Levy actually collected $1 million and Philip, $916,647. Some other examples of YAI’s inflated costs:
The Young Adult Institute won more than $1 million in Medicaid appeals over the past seven years for a single group home — a residence on East 35th Street — one of the most expensive homes of its kind in the state. For care of the 28 developmentally disabled people housed there, whose needs are among the most acute in the nonprofit system, the organization received $7.2 million in 2010, or $700 per person per night.
Over all, the organization’s rates for group homes at the intermediate care level, which require higher levels of care and supervision, rose by 48 percent from 2004 to 2010. Rates for similar group homes run by nonprofit providers around the state increased by 37 percent during the same period, while inflation was 15 percent.
Two days after the New York Times asked Philip Levy about using Medicaid funds to pay for his daughter’s apartment, he “abruptly retired as chief executive.” Joel Levy also retired last month, “after serving as a $250,000-a-year part-time consultant following his departure from the chief executive’s position in 2009.”
A parent interviewed at the end of the NYT article says that YAI excels at “hiring caring people, investing in training and supervising programs” for her 30-year-old son, Mark, a resident of a YAI group home for four years. Of course staff at agencies providing services like 24/7 care for individuals with developmental disabilities need to be adequately compensated and high-quality services do cost a lot. My husband and I aren’t the only parents of a child with disabilities who joke (lovingly — we’re always glad to pay for Charlie’s needs) that we’ve spent the equivalent of four years of college tuition on years of behavior, speech and other therapies; lawyer’s fees (when we had some “difficulties” with various school districts); medical professionals like a dentist who specializes in special needs care; wear and tear on our car and house. But what a slap in the face to hear that staff at agencies like YAI are using Medicaid dollars to finance college for their own children. While more autistic children are going to college, Charlie is not — college tuition is not what Medicaid is for.
The Levy brothers started their careers as social workers from Flatbush, Brooklyn. According to the New York Times‘ investigation, they may have started seeking to help individuals with disabilities. But they’ve taken advantage of a 1970s New York court order that called for thousands of people to be moved into community homes following Geraldo Rivera’s 1972 exposé of the inhumane conditions at Willowbrook State School on Staten Island. It sounds as if residents of YAI group homes do receive far better care, but, if all the Medicaid dollars actually went to them, they might well receive even better care, and more people with disabilities could benefit, too — and maybe there would be less clamor about needing to cut Medicaid.
Photo by stevendepolo