Thursday, January 21, 2016

Why Does Bronx Old-Age Home Funnel Millions to Ultra-Orthodox Groups? 

A Bronx old-age home whose board includes several high-powered Orthodox Jewish activists has sent at least $20 million to dozens of ultra-Orthodox organizations in an unusual, decades-long arrangement.

The not-for-profit, called the Bronxwood Home for the Aged, runs a home care agency and an assisted living facility, which serves largely non-Jewish seniors. It has sent one dollar out of every 10 it has earned in revenue since 1997 to Hasidic yeshivas, Orthodox activist groups and a proposed Israeli medical center, among other Jewish charities.

State and federal Medicaid funds provide roughly a third of Bronxwood’s revenues, according to a 2009 audit report. Other funds come from Medicare, private insurance and out-of-pocket payments from the home’s hundreds of elderly residents.

Experts say that it is extremely unusual for a not-for-profit assisted living facility to make large grants to unrelated charities. “I’ve never heard of a nursing home or assisted living, or any care organization, paying out that much,” said David Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, who studies long-term care for older adults. “Most of them have pretty vulnerable, frail and needy residents… The idea that they would take dollars out of that setting seems kind of backwards.”

Other experts said that when not-for-profit assisted living facilities do turn a surplus, they usually use those funds to improve their services or save for the future.

Bronxwood, which spent $15.7 million in the most recent year for which records are available, has made $19.5 million in grants since 1997. Some of the grants are highly unusual; many are impossible to trace. One Brooklyn charity advocating for the construction of a new hospital in the Israeli city of Ashdod got $1.5 million from Bronxwood, yet it appears to have filed no tax returns for those years, and has since been stripped of its tax-exempt status. A Hasidic ambulance service that got $1 million from Bronxwood to build a new headquarters appears to have used the money to give $700,000 to other ultra-Orthodox charities instead. And one set of Bronxwood grants went to a charity whose executive director was a Bronxwood board member.

A 2009 draft audit of Bronxwood’s assisted living program estimated that the organization had overcharged Medicaid by $7.6 million on its $8.4 million tab for 2006 and 2007. Of the 200 Medicaid claims reviewed in preparation of the draft audit, 195 “had at least one error,” according to the report issued by the New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General. OMIG plans to take action on the audit within the next 30 days, according to a spokesman for the office.

Bronxwood officials refused to speak with the Forward, or to respond to a list of questions. A Forward reporter was not allowed to tour the assisted living facility after arriving unannounced.
Bronxwood’s seven-member board of directors includes some of New York’s most powerful Orthodox activists. Board member Abraham Biderman, New York City’s commissioner of finance and of housing under Mayor Ed Koch, is the newly appointed president of the scandal-plagued Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, one of the city’s largest Jewish social service organizations. He also serves on the boards of the ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization Agudath Israel of America and of the billion-dollar Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. He has been on Bronxwood’s board since 2007.

Another Bronxwood board member, Marcel Weber, is a former chairman (and current honorary chairman) of the board of directors of the Orthodox Union, the large centrist Orthodox umbrella group. Mendel Zilberberg, who joined the Bronxwood board in 2010, is also on Agudah’s board.


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