Vacant Lot Yields Hidden Treasure for Massachusetts Medicaid Officials

Cash-strapped states are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to recovering from the estates of deceased Medicaid long-term care recipients.  Still, few would think to search in vacant lots, but that’s where $178,496 was found that a Massachusetts judge recently ruled belongs to the state as reimbursement for Medicaid payments to a nursing home resident who died a decade ago.    

The cash was in a safe that had been dumped in a lot located in the city of Lawrence, which is near the state’s border with New Hampshire.  The safe had once belonged to Sally Daher, a local shoe store owner who spent her last five years in a nursing home. 

The safe ended up in the lot because a shoe repairman who rented Ms. Daher’s old store wanted to get rid of it, believing it was a target for burglars.  Apparently assuming Ms. Daher had emptied the safe of its contents, the repairman paid a tow truck driver $200 to haul it away.  When the driver couldn’t sell the safe for scrap, he dumped it in a lot next to his home.

There it lay until Lawrence firefighters noticed it in November 2008.  After an hour of work with a metal cutting torch, a jack hammer and an air hammer, the firefighters managed to pry the safe open.  Inside they found $178,496 in cash packed in plastic shopping bags from Ms. Daher’s old store.  The newest bill was from 1982.

At that point, several people laid claim to the cash, including Ms. Daher’s relatives and the tow truck driver.  But when Massachusetts Medicaid officials learned that the safe was linked to Ms. Daher, they filed a claim to recover Medicaid funds they had spent on her while she was in the nursing home. 

A superior court judge recently ruled that the cash found in the safe belonged to Ms. Daher and that it was part of her “probate estate.”  This means, the judge said, that the safe’s contents are now the property of the Massachusetts Division of Medical Assistance as repayment for medical bills Ms. Daher incurred.

Ken Daher, one of Ms. Daher's surviving children, told the Eagle-Tribune, a local newspaper, that the family would not contest the judge’s ruling.

"I am ecstatic. This is the best Christmas present I could get," said Mr. Daher. "My mother wouldn't have wanted money owed or a handout in a million years . . . My mother did not live like that."

For the Eagle-Tribune’s article, click here