Residents fighting against adult care facility Prospect Park Residence (PPR) owner Haysha Deitsch and the Department of Health (DOH) are getting a test in patience after another inconclusive hearing on Wednesday.
The hearing was held to address the plaintiffs’ claims that PPR management has failed to continue proper services for its elderly residents after serving them a 90-day eviction notice in March, while simultaneously failing to properly assist residents in finding appropriate locations to move to.
The plaintiffs also claim that DOH did not conduct a proper review of Deitsch’s closure plan, approving a closure that never should have gotten the go-ahead, and since then have failed to effectively monitor the residence to ensure that the elderly folks living there continue to receive the services they pay for.
Judge Wayne Saitta of Kings County Supreme Court presided over the Sept. 24 hearing, after he postponed the hearing from last Friday due to the death of plaintiff Jack Stock. Stock’s daughter, Jennifer Stock, sat in his place in the courtroom as a temporary administrator.
A lawyer representing DOH began the hearing, arguing that a case rejecting a DOH decision to approve a closure was unprecedented and problematic. The lawyer explained that overturning a closure decision would potentially deter others from opening adult care facilities, if they believed they would not be able to easily shut them down.
Of the 130 residents that lived in PPR in March, when the eviction notice was served, only ten remain, she pointed out, saying that the others had “transferred to other facilities without complaint.”
But family members of the residents argue that this is not, in fact, the case. Many moved, they said, because they were afraid of being evicted and becoming homeless, or because they were forced out because they could not handle the deteriorated conditions at PPR after management announced its impending closure.
After the closure announcement, plaintiffs say, PPR management cut down staff, decreased the quality of the residents’ meals, took down art and removed furniture from common spaces, and cut back on activities for the residents.
The remaining residents also claim they have had issues with the air conditioning being turned off in the middle of the summer and hot water sporadically turning off, sometimes for days.
“People aren’t doing well, and no one is following up,” one family member said. “I’m sure there are some that are doing great, but they’re not the example of the majority. And the reason we stuck it out is that we really feel it’s going to be dangerous to move them. And it’s been proven.”
Families are also struggling to find appropriate options for their loved ones that are a reasonable distance from their support systems. Some families, who chose PPR for its convenient central Brooklyn location have had to move residents as far away as Staten Island.
Location, however, is irrelevant, according to the lawyer representing DOH. The agency had to sign off on PPR’s closure plan, which states that PPR management will assist residents in every way it can to help them find “appropriate” new homes.
For DOH, appropriateness is only related to a facility’s ability to medically provide for a resident, regardless of how far away that facility is from a residents’ loved ones.
Another particularly contentious issue in the courtroom questioned Deitsch’s motives when he continued to accept new residents into the building, even after he had submitted plans to close to DOH for approval.
Additionally, PPR advertises itself as a residence where the elderly can “age in place,” meaning that they can spend the rest of their days comfortably in one location. PPR continued to advertise itself as such to prospective residents after closure plans were submitted last year.
When Judge Saitta questioned Deitsch’s lawyer as to why PPR would knowingly deceive prospective residents, or continue to admit new residents at all, he claimed that law requires for adult care facilities to continue to admit residents even if there are plans for closure. However, when Judge Saitta asked for a citation for the statute stating this, the lawyer had nothing to provide.
Deitsch’s lawyer then began to argue that informing prospective residents of closure plans could cause a series of problems. If word got out, he said, staff may quit and find a new job and current residents could begin to worry and look for a new home.
“You’re saying that in order to keep a facility properly running, you have to deny workers the right to information they might need to protect their livelihood and deny residents, who might otherwise choose a place where they know they can stay, the right to information they need to make an intelligent decision?” Judge Saitta asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
The counsel for the plaintiffs agreed, claiming that PPR “actively solicited new residents” even after Deitsch knew he was planning on closing down the facility.
“They could have just stopped taking people and no one would have known,” a family member of a plaintiff said. “They could have said they were fixing part of the building or that they could not take anyone else at that time. They didn’t have to take in more people.”
DOH representatives said they did not know the protocol for when an adult care facility was required to inform prospective or current residents of plans to close.
After over three hours in the courtroom, Judge Saitta closed the case for the day, requiring that Deitsch’s lawyer bring evidence of the statute requiring adult care facilities to continue to admit new residents at the next hearing.
The plaintiffs’ counsel then reminded the judge that starting Nov. 1, the residents of PPR can be sued in housing court and potentially evicted from their apartments. The plaintiffs were hoping to get a stay on the housing court notices — meaning they could not be sued — until Judge Saitta made a decision on their case.
With that in mind, Judge Saitta set the next court date for Oct. 30, at which point the plaintiffs will argue not only for a stay on housing court notices, but also will ask for a neutral monitor to regulate services at PPR, claiming that DOH is no longer neutral and has failed to do due diligence in keeping PPR’s living conditions suitable for the residents.
For the residents and their family members, the delay in a decision is difficult. Though they have been fighting for conditions to improve in PPR since May, when the lawsuit began, the state of the facility has continued to decline, even when Judge Saitta has required otherwise in court.
“What do we do until then?” a family member asked. “The situation has become pretty desperate. [PPR] has gone against everything [Judge Saitta has requested] and now the conditions are really bad.”