Residents receive less protection under DOH rules
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The outcry over the impending closure of an assisted living facility in Park Slope has prompted Assemblywoman Joan Millman to introduce legislation that would halt future closures while a state commission studies the effects of closing these types of long term care facilities.
Earlier this month, Prospect Park Residence, an assisted living facility located on prime real estate in Park Slope, gave its 130 residents just 90 days to find new places to live. The state Department of Health approved shuttering the residence after it received a closure plan in January.
Advocates say residents had more protection under housing laws than they do under the supervision of the state Department of Health, which merely requires the submission of a closure plan.
The bill submitted by Millman, Chair of the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Aging, would create a nine member commission which would have one year to prepare a set of recommendations. No long term care private facility would be allowed to close, convert to any other use, or reduce staffing levels until a year after the commission reports its findings.
The outcome might include new legislation or regulations, according to a statement from Millman’s office. A similar bill is being sponsored by Kevin Parker in the State Senate.
“Seniors who have been living in these facilities can be severely stressed and negatively affected by such an uprooting of their life without adequate time to transition,” Assemblywoman Millman said in a statement. “The Prospect Park Residence has 138 beds and a number of these residents are extremely vulnerable. For instance, the residence has a closed unit for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.”
The bill would not help the seniors at the Prospect Park Residence, however, said Michael Czaczkes, Assemblywoman Millman’s deputy chief of staff. The New York State Attorney General is looking into the matter and will be meeting with some of the residents on Friday to review their contracts, he said.
While some of the residents have rushed to move elsewhere, others plan to dig in and fight.
“It’s just tragic,” said Judy Willig, executive director of Heights and Hills, which provides services for Brooklyn’s seniors. “It destabilizes everyone.” Willig said residents at the facility include “Holocaust survivors, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, former union organizers, artists. It’s an incredibly rich community of people.
“Many of the residents moved in four, five, ten years ago and now they are in wheelchairs or have dementia. Many assisted living facilities won’t take people with that level of need. There are not enough facilities. Where will they go?” she asked, adding, “It’s a very frightening thing for the residents and their families.”
Willig told the Brooklyn Eagle that her own 90-year-old mother lives at the residence. “Many of the families live in the immediate area,” she said.
“This comes at a time of life when people are dealing with loss after loss, and this is a huge one. And it’s being done by people they trusted. There were a lot of promises made. Last January they became licensed. They said now you would be able to age in place. Nine months later they submitted a closure plan to the Department of Health.”
Willig said that residents of the residence had protections under housing laws until it became licensed by DOH. “Now that it falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health, all they had to do was submit a closure plan to evict all 130 tenants. No one realized the Department of Health offers less protection. We thought there would be oversight.”
The owner, Haysha Deitsch, posted a statement on the Prospect Park Residence’s website blaming an increase in taxes for the closure. Willig counters, “That’s not the issue. They did nothing to try to extend their tax break. Work needs to be done – there’s been scaffolding around the building for years. They could have gotten a tax abatement.
“It’s all about luxury housing,” she said. “It’s sad to see Brooklyn becoming Manhattan. Look at the demographic. The Baby Boomers are aging. Ten thousand Americans a day are turning 65. Where are they all going to live?”
“The procedures currently in place at the State Department of Health for closing these types of facilities needs reform,” Millman said. “The closure of the Prospect Park Residence brought this to light.”