Prospect Park Residence plans could face legal challenge
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Senior residents, their families and officials are calling for an investigation of what they call the unethical closure of their assisted living facility in Park Slope.
At a rally in Prospect Park on Saturday, across the street from the Prospect Park Residence, seniors, many in wheel chairs, held signs and demanded action.
“It’s terrible, people are getting sick over it,” said resident Ruth Willig, age 90. “The mood is very grim.” Willig said that about 60 out of roughly 130 residents had left. “I love being here. When I hear about places other people have gone, they’re not as good. They should take age into consideration and not treat us like garbage. We’re human beings with feelings.”
In March, Prospect Park Residence’s owner Haysha Deitsch gave the facility’s residents just 90 days to find new places to live. Families say the elders – some of whom are over 100 years old -- are stressed out and heartbroken at losing their friends and home, and other facilities in Brooklyn have no room for them.
They want Deitsch investigated for continuing to sign up residents even after he secretly filed with the state Department of Health (DOH) to close the home.
Judy Willig, Ruth’s daughter, points the finger at DOH. “DOH was aware of their plan,” she said. “They became licensed in January, only to file for closure in September to the same licensing body, who approved it.” Willig is the executive director of the non-profit senior advocacy group Heights and Hills.
“After they applied to the state in September to close, they continued to take new residents – which they told DOH they were going to do!” she said. “The regulations concerning assisted living facilities are fairly meaningless and do little to protect the rights of residents.”
Ruth Willig’s son Bruce had sharper words for Deitsch. “There’s no law against being a hypocrite.”
Assemblywoman Joan Millman (Brooklyn Heights, Cobblke Hill, Park Slope) told the Brooklyn Eagle that she has introduced two new pieces of legislation to protect seniors. “The first would require a public hearing before closing an assisted living facility. The second would give residents up to six months to relocate.”
The legislation “would not help the present situation,” she added. “Now we’re doing a letter campaign to the governor, asking him to step in and put this on hold,” while families pursue court proceedings. “We’re having lawyers look at the leases. They continued to sign up people after filing for closure in the summer. Isn’t that fraud?”
Millman said residents have had to move to Sheepshead Bay, Borough Park, and Manhattan. “All in the name of greed. Deitsch paid $40 million in 2006. He’s making double, triple, today. I’ve asked for a meeting with DOH.”
Councilman Brad Lander (Cobble Hill, Gowanus, Park Slope) said, “DOH signed off in secret, with no disclosure. We want a review to see if they acted legally.” Lander says he also wants seniors whose leases expire on December 31 to continue to receive services until then. “There has already been a staff reduction, and DOH is not on site. We want the governor to uphold the law, and we’re exploring legal action.”
“Five thousand people signed a petition we delivered to Mr. Deitsch. A human with a soul would not need a petition with five thousands signatures saying it’s wrong,” Lander said.
One of the residents who vowed to stay in the home to the last died last week, Lander added. “We’ll never prove it was because the closure affected his health and broke his heart – but this is a truly evil act by Haysha Deitsch. And it’s a moral indictment not just of Deitsch but the society in which this happens.
“DOH approved the closure plan in secret, allowing people to come in here and pay money up to the last second,” said Assemblyman James Brennan (Park Slope, Kensington). Brennan said attorneys would try to block the plan temporarily, “to protect people as long as possible.”
“It’s a tremendous shortcoming at DOH,” he said. “People have been defrauded. We have an opportunity to challenge the evictions on the basis of fraud.”
Pauline Shapiro told the Eagle that her great aunt, Lillian Mark is facing eviction. “She is so happy here,” she said. Marks, at age 107, is the oldest living graduate of NYU. “Her husband published Anne Frank’s Diary,” Shapiro said. Ms. Marks published a typing book and “sold over one million copies. She still gets letters from secretarial schools in Africa thanking her for teaching them typing.”
Shapiro said her aunt “has some crazy stories.”
“She hitchhiked across the U.S. five times, and smuggled guns into Palestine.” Now, at 107, she faces the loss of her home and long-time friends, Shapiro said.
A.J. Blandford said her mom moved into the Prospect Park Residence from Colorado after months of research. They chose the facility in part, she said, because they have a “memory floor.”
“When she move in [roughly a year ago] she was independent, but she knew she would need increasing care. Her residency agreement says she can age in place,” Blandford said. Since the news of the closure, however, “her condition has deteriorated rapidly.”
When they signed the agreement, “They assured us it was a long-term facility. Now we know they filed in September to close.” Blandford says the family is filing a lawsuit. “We’ll find out when the discovery process is in place if they knowingly lied to us.”
“DOH’s regulations are empty,” she said. “The public health infrastructure is being dismantled. The governor needs to reform his agency.”