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Abrupt closure of Hemet facility jolts elderly and their kin
Dozens of Inland families were forced to find immediate new homes for loved ones suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia following the sudden closure of an elder care facility, a situation that is happening more frequently in the current dismal economy.
Two weeks ago, the Parkside Gardens elder care facility in Hemet notified the families of residents that the home was in foreclosure and would be shutting in two months.
Then on Thursday, almost all the staff walked out after learning the facility could not make payroll, prompting the immediate closure of the 102-bed assisted living and respite care home.
"The trauma of this experience has been unbelievable," said Robin Richert, loading her family's van with the belongings of her 91-year-old relative, Esther Baker, who has Alzheimer's. "We were planning to make the move as soon as possible, instead it was basically mayhem." For Alzheimer's patients, the sudden jolt of a move can be traumatic because they depend on routine, familiar faces and locations.
The stress of sudden change can be so overwhelming as to sometimes endanger their lives if their condition regresses, they become inactive or change their diet, said Mary McClure, Riverside County program director of the federally mandated ombudsman program. The program is tasked with finding replacement sites and ensuring the move is done safely.
"With anyone elderly, they all suffer transfer trauma," McClure said. "They're in their home environment and they're disrupted. Once they're set in their ways, they're used to care providers, their rooms a certain way and food. It's very traumatic and hard to readjust to change." Richert and dozens of other families received a letter April 21, giving them 60 days notice that the home would be closing. On Thursday, the home's manager told Richert that Baker, who is her husband's aunt, needed to be moved to a new location in the next eight hours because the staff had left.
Parkside Gardens owner Sandy Krasovec, of Hemet, declined to comment Monday. She said Friday she was losing $2 million in the business.
During a 14-month period ending earlier this year, 41 elder care facilities reported to the state Department of Social Services that they were in foreclosure, according to the organization, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. In 2006, the ombudsman program reported only three businesses in financial distress.
The number could be much higher because facilities are not required to report to the state when their properties are foreclosed, said Tony Chicotel, an attorney for the advocacy group.
"These facilities are not immune to the same problems of property owners in subprime mortgages and getting in over their heads," Chicotel said. "All the problems that led to the foreclosure crisis are affecting operators of assisted living homes." Parkside Gardens, which blends in with residential homes at the end of Rafferty Road, north of Florida Avenue in Hemet, was licensed by the state Department of Social Services to treat patients with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. It is not licensed as a nursing home.
California Social Services spokeswoman Lizelda Lopez said Parkside Gardens managers notified the state licensing board of its financial default more than six months ago.
Managers were in negotiations with the state Community Care Licensing Division to find new management for the site in order to keep the business open, Lopez said.
When new management could not be found by April 20, Parkside Garden operators began notifying families and working with the licensing board and the ombudsman to relocate residents to new facilities, Lopez said.
Parkside Gardens operators notified the licensing board Wednesday it could not meet payroll. On Thursday, they notified their staff, almost all of whom walked off the site that morning, Lopez said.
Some employees returned to the site later Thursday to volunteer in relocating patients.
All residents were removed from the home by Friday morning.
"When the workers walked out, it became a safety issue for the residents in care," Lopez said.
All of the residents were relocated to other sites, some in Hemet and others as far away as Rialto. McClure said the facility management appeared to follow the law, but that the upheaval could still be traumatic to residents.
"Whether it was permitted or not, was this the best practice? Absolutely not," McClure said.
In past cases, banks and financial institutions have been more lenient to grant extensions when relocating the elderly, McClure said.
A state Senate bill is pending that would require elder care facilities to notify Social Services when they enter foreclosure, as happened in the Hemet case last week. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would allow Social Services to counsel a facility operator and make resources available to get through a financial crisis, Chicotel said.
Though all of the residents were relocated successfully, Alzheimer's treatment facilities are in short supply and the demand is expected to increase, said Ed Walsh, director of the Riverside County Office of Aging.
"It's going to get worse as time goes on and as the boomers and senior population we're looking at in the future, it's going to be like gold to find a good facility and do it well," Walsh said. "There's still not enough and there are not going to be enough in the future."
Staff Writer Lora Hines contributed to this report
Reach John Asbury at 951-763-3451 or jasbury@PE.com