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Lawsuit seeks to block Alaska Pioneer Home rate increases

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: November 4, 2019
  • Published November 4, 2019

A pair of Juneau attorneys have filed a class-action lawsuit seeking to reverse a recent rate hike at the state-owned Pioneer Homes.

The suit, filed in Ketchikan on Monday against the state of Alaska, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and officials at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, asks a judge to issue a “preliminary and permanent injunction” against the rate increases. Those increases boosted the cost of a Pioneer Home bed by between 40% and 140% on Sept. 1.

The suit also seeks legal fees and any other compensation the judge deems worthy.

“Our argument is that these rate hikes are unjust and stopping them will limit injury to the 497 residents of the Pioneer Homes,” said Elizabeth Bakalar, one of the attorneys filing the suit.

Maria Bahr, assistant attorney general at the Alaska Department of Law, said by email that the state learned of the lawsuit Monday and needs time to review and respond to the complaint. The department does not generally discuss ongoing cases.

As a class-action lawsuit, the case is filed on behalf of all Pioneer Home residents. The assigned judge would have to certify that fact before considering the merits of the case.

The initial filing by attorneys Vance Sanders and Bakalar is on behalf of Ketchikan Pioneer Home resident Eileen Casey and Juneau Pioneer Home residents Marion and Howard Rider. Bakalar is a former Department of Law attorney involved in a lawsuit that alleges she was illegally fired by the Dunleavy administration. She also has worked as a consultant for the campaign to recall Dunleavy from office.

Bakalar said the principal argument in the suit is that the state had embarked on a yearslong policy of gradual rate increases, that residents had budgeted for those increases, and then the state abruptly increased rates, harming residents. In legal terms, it’s called “equitable estoppel.”

“We have a system here that is supposed to protect and care for our elders and has existed to do exactly that,” Bakalar said. “They simply did not reasonably expect this kind of financial hit to be bludgeoned upon them so quickly, and the system exists to provide affordable care to elders here that helped build the state.”