Tawanda Rhodes and the home her parents bought in the Boston's Dorchester neighborhood in 1979 for $24,000
Tawanda Rhodes with a portrait of her parents, John & Edna. John worked as a welder in a shipyard and pressed laundry; Edna worked as a cook in school cafeterias.
Tawanda's father, a Korean War veteran, passed away a few years after moving into their Dorchester home. The mortgage was satisfied by his life insurance payout.
Edna, was showing signs of Alzheimer's disease. A state guardian admitted Edna into a nursing home and signed her up for MassHealth.
Few weeks after Edna entered the nursing home, Tawanda received a notice that MassHealth had put a lien on her parents Dorchester home.
Tawanda called the agency intending to take Edna off Medicaid but, MassHealth told her that if she removed Edna from the nursing home, they would remove the lien and Edna could continue to receive Medicaid benefits.
Edna continued to stay on Medicaid; Tawanda & her husband, Oliver, relocated to Boston to care for Edna full time & cashed all of their savings bonds to renovate her parents' home.
In 2007, Oliver was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease-- Tawanda now had to take care of both her husband and mother.
After Edna's passing in 2009, Tawanda received a letter from Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services-- which oversees MassHealth-- seeking reimbursement from Edna’s estate for Medicaid payments made on her behalf. For Edna’s five years on MassHealth, she owed $198,660.26.
The agency sent her a 28-page itemized bill including every Band-Aid, every can of Ensure her mother had used. Tawanda had 6 months to pay the debt or begin accruing interest at a rate of 12%. If she couldn’t afford it, the state could force her to sell the home and take a share of the proceeds to settle the debt.
her attorney told her that her best option was to accept a deal from MassHealth that would keep its claim on the house but allow her to remain there as a tenant until her death. (Oliver passed away in 2018.)
The contract stipulated that if she fell behind on any of her bills or taxes, or didn’t keep up on repairs, she’d have to vacate. “They were setting me up for failure,” Tawanda said.
Tawanda has refused to sell her house to pay her mother’s Medicaid debt. “From slavery years we never got our 40 acres and a mule; we never got reparations,” she said. “My parents made their 40 acres and a mule with blood, sweat, and tears, and now they want that too?”
“After my husband died I picked up the sword again,” Ms. Rhodes said. “I will fight them to the death. I will never, ever give up this fight, and I will never sign a paper saying that they own my house.”