WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. (AP) — Vladimir Konstantinov has traded hockey sticks for a Uno deck. A lot, in fact. The former Soviet and Detroit Red Wings star plays so often that he goes through a pack a week, using the cards with the hands that made him one of the best defenders in the world.
During a recent visit to the Konstantinovs’ suburban Detroit condominium, he easily defeated his longtime nurse, Pam Demanuel, and smiled. That’s about all he can get for himself these days.
Since suffering severe brain damage when his drunk limo driver crashed while Konstantinov celebrated the first of consecutive Red Wings championships in the late 1990s, the former NHL tall and captain of the Red Army team had to rebuild his life. Now 55, he needs help with walking, eating, drinking and brushing his teeth, and a caregiver stays awake while he sleeps in case he needs to walk to the toilet. Although he seems to understand the questions, his answers are limited to a few words and are not always easy to understand.
Next week, Konstantinov risks being lose 24 hour care which allowed him to stay at home. Due to the high costs of this care and changes to a Michigan law, he could be transferred to a facility where restraints or medication would be needed to keep him safe.
Konstantinov is the public face of a predicament facing approximately 18,000 Michigan residents who suffered serious traffic-related injuries and lost their state-funded unlimited lifetime medical care that every driver had to pay for in under the law. A bipartisan change to the law that had helped Michigan have the highest auto insurance rates in the nation went into effect last summer and left Konstantinov and the thousands of others who depended on it with worse options.
Facing the specter of losing their 24/7 care, Konstantinov’s family asked for help from the legislature and the public, launching a GoFundMe to help offset their large expenses and give journalists a behind-the-scenes look to their life.
“This is the first time we’ve let people see the struggles he goes through every day,” his wife, Irina Konstantinov, told The Associated Press earlier this month. “Fans see him at a Red Wings game greeting people and think he must be fine, but he’s not.”
Konstantinov was 30 years old and had just completed a championship season in which he was voted the NHL’s best defenseman when his limousine driver crashed on June 13, 1997, ending his career and changing his life forever. . His friend and teammate Slava Fetisov, another member of the The famous Russian Five of the Red Wings, was also in the limo but suffered no career-threatening injuries.
Konstantinov’s wife and daughter, Anastasia, tried to care for him after he emerged from a two-month coma, but soon found they needed constant professional help. After years of round-the-clock professional care, therapy and a lot of determination, Konstantinov learned to walk and talk again.
But seeking to cut Michigan’s highest auto insurance policies, the Republican-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2019 passed a law that went into effect last July allowing drivers to choose their level of injury protection and opt-out of the previous requirement that they purchase unlimited lifetime coverage. Among other changes, the new law also reduced state fund reimbursements for health care providers who treat accident victims.
Although the law reduced Michigan auto insurance premiums to some extent and led the state to issue reimbursements of $400 per vehicle in an election year, it left Konstantinov and others like him face the prospect of losing the constant care they need. Reimbursements for some post-acute services under the new law have been reduced to 55% of 2019 levels, which home care agencies say is financially unsustainable.
“We are bearing about $200,000 in (losses) just for Vlad’s case,” said Theresa Ruedisueli, regional director of operations for Arcadia Home Care & Staffing, which provides Konstantinov’s home care.
If the company can’t deal with Konstantinov without losing more money, it plans to fire him as a customer on June 1.
Anastasia Konstantinov started a GoFundMe three years ago to help pay for her father’s care, but it raised less than 10% of her $250,000 goal. The Red Wings and NHL Players’ Association are also exploring ways to help maintain Konstantinov’s home care.
“We are actively working with him and his team and plan to host a fundraising event to help maintain his care and provide more resources to extend it in the future,” the Red Wings said in a statement.
The NHLPA has been in contact with the family and is working to determine how to resolve the issue, according to spokesperson Jonathan Weatherdon.
However, few if any others affected by the law change have Konstantinov’s notoriety in Michigan, and many are also struggling to find the money to keep their home care around the clock.
Some lawmakers have said they never intended the revisions to apply retroactively to crashes that occurred before the new law was signed. But their efforts to amend it have stalled.
“I don’t believe the legislature’s intent was for home health care workers to take this type of reduction,” said Republican state Rep. Phil Green, who sponsored a bill that would increase reimbursements for rehabilitation treatment and home care. care. “The statement made was, ‘All sides, both the health care side and the insurance side, need a haircut. The reality is that for home care as well as rehabilitation centers, it was more of a scalping than a haircut.
But Republican Michigan House Speaker Jason Wentworth, who backed the current law, said in march that efforts to change the law during this year’s session were dead, underscoring the savings it has brought to drivers. He declined an interview request from the AP.
As for Konstantinov, who met lawmakers on Capitol Hill, he seems well aware that his quality of life is in jeopardy.
“I like living here,” he said during the AP’s visit to his home.
“My house,” he replied.
Associated Press reporters David Eggert in Lansing and Mike Householder in Detroit contributed.
Follow Larry Lage on https://twitter.com/larrylage