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When Assisted Living Communities Close Down…

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When Valley Springs Manor, an assisted living community, closed down in 2013, almost all of the staff left once their paychecks stopped clearing. The problem is, they weren’t the only ones affected. 16 seniors remained at the residence with nowhere else to go, many of whom suffered from dementia and were unable to communicate with their families and loved ones. All but two staff members remained on the premises to continue providing round-the-clock care for no pay: the cook, Maurice Rowland, and the janitor, Miguel Alvarez.

“If we left, they wouldn’t have nobody,” said 34-year-old Alvarez.

The two worked nonstop every day to provide 24 hour care for the 16 residents. Rowland cooked their meals and helped provide the right medications to the residents. Alvarez stated that he would go home for about an hour to take a shower and change his clothes, and then return to the campus to continue providing care. Why did they stay? NPR interviewed Rowland in 2014 who said:

“I just couldn’t see myself going home – next thing you know, they’re in the kitchen trying to cook their own food and burn the place down… Even though they wasn’t our family, they were kind of like our family for this short period of time. If I would’ve left, I think that would have been on my conscience for a very long time.”

The two provided care for several days before the fire department and sheriff took over. This whole incident led to the Elderly Reform Act of 2014 which increases the protection for residents of senior care homes in California. Some of the Reform Act bills (that have been signed into law) increase the rights of residents and family councils as well as prohibits the reinstatement of a resident care facility license when a licensee abandons residents – as was the case with Valley Springs Manor.

Although this situation ultimately led to profound (and necessary) changes to residential care communities in California, it’s shocking that only two staff members felt compelled to stay. Truly these seniors were blessed that Miguel Alvarez and Maurice Rowland were working there. Their service is meritorious and the residents’ families are undoubtedly grateful.

This scenario, however scary, is not uncommon and it’s all the more reason why the Concierge Care Advisors hold such high standards for senior housing communities and why we fight for more regulations. In the senior housing industry, you’re working with the lives of the elderly, the fact that only two people saw it that way is shocking. It’s why we need to vet employees, management, and make sure our loved ones are moving to a home that treats them like family. Alvarez and Rowland should not be the outliers of a community, they should be the majority.

The one thing we can be proud of is this situation has led to greater reform and attention in California. It’s the Care Advisors job to help spread that word so we can see this kind of movement across the country. Of course, just because this has led to reform, doesn’t mean we can forgive past misgivings. Pat McGinnis, an executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, put it best when he said:

“These laws cannot right the wrongs that were committed against so many residents over the past years, but they do provide the Department with better enforcement tools, provide for basic statutory resident rights and provide a path forward to ensure that protecting the health and safety of residents is a priority.”

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