HARRISBURG (KDKA) — A warning for all people with loved ones in personal care facilities, senior centers and nursing homes: Pensylvania’s top attorney just launched an investigation into senior living facilities accused of seizing their residents’ stimulus checks.
KDKA Investigator Meghan Schiller found a local man who claims this happened to his loved one.
“They take good care of it.”
Justin Ciesielski says he will do anything to keep his dad comfortable.
“My dad is clean and healthy and seems to be happy every time I go to see him,” said Ciesielski.
At only 62 years old, his father now lives at Mt. Lebanon Rehabilitation and Wellness Center.
“He’s had quite a few strokes and some other health issues and stuff so he’s pretty debilitated,” said Ciesielski.
He says his dad’s life savings and Medicare funds funnel directly to this facility, in exchange for his care. But in April, Ciesielski received this letter about his dad’s stimulus check.
“I got a letter from the IRS basically saying it went into his account so I went and checked his account and it did not.”
He tells KDKA he called the facility and learned it planned to use his father’s stimulus check to pay down his balance and other expenses. Ciesielski said it didn’t seem right.
“I called the Mt. Lebanon Police department, I called Rep. Jason Ortitay’s office, I called the ombudsmen, the FTC and the state attorney’s office, attorney general.”
KDKA’s Meghan Schiller followed up with Attorney General Josh Shapiro in a one-on-one interview.
“We have advised those nursing homes that they can’t do that. That money belongs to the individual,” said Shapiro.
He continued saying, “they can’t effectively garnish that stimulus check from the resident.”
The state’s longterm care ombudsman Margaret Barajas said she’s tracking 200 complaints statewide, in addition to the cases Attorney General Shapiro’s office will handle.
“I think in some cases the providers saw this as an opportunity to shore up some past debt,” said Barajas.
Still, she wants people to know the rule on the matter is clear.
“The federal government has made it clear that the stimulus check is not considered income. It is not taxable income and for that reason, it would be excluded from any contracts that a resident has signed and agreed to for provision of their care,” said Barajas.
In Ciesielski’s case, he said the facility told him his father signed one of the forms Barajas is referencing.
KDKA’s Meghan Schiller called the spokesman for Mt. Lebanon Rehab and Wellness to inquire if the facility wanted to release a statement and if the facility knew the stimulus checks do not count as touchable income. The facility said “no comment” when she asked, “Is it safe to assume every resident who signed the form also had their checks confiscated?”
The facility mailed Ciesielski his father’s check, but now he worries about other families.
When asked why he wanted to share his story he said “my dad is in there.”
He continued by saying “I’ve been fighting for months and there’s probably hundreds that have no clue.”
If you think this happened to you or your loved one, the Attorney General’s Office wants you to file a complaint on his website.
Barajas, the state’s longterm care ombudsmen, also encourages people reach out to her office. The phone number can be found here.