|Richard Miller, 77|
Richard Miller had been living in his second-floor San Francisco apartment for 23 years when, one day in 2010, he fell down the stairs. His doctor recommended he move into a residential care facility for the elderly, where residents have meals provided and, if needed, get help with dressing, eating and bathing. Miller wasn’t eager to make the move, and three years later, he has had plenty of reasons to regret it.
Miller, who is now 77, suffers from several health problems. He has sleep apnea and congestive heart failure, which causes him to get winded easily and pause every 10 or so steps to catch his breath. A large man with a thick swatch of white hair and a booming tenor voice, he calls his cane a "kind of a security blanket" because he's had two knee operations, and one of his legs sometimes gives out.
Miller’s fall and subsequent move led him to two different elder care facilities -- both of which, he discovered later, were in foreclosure. He now lives in a third facility called Morning Glory Care Home, a four-bedroom elder care house on a cul-de-sac in Vallejo, a city of roughly 117,000 that's 35 minutes northeast of San Francisco. But only a few months after moving in, he noticed some unusual visitors passing through the home. "Two women came through with clipboards and were kind of looking around,” he said. "When you're 76 years old and it's your third place, you get a little bit scared."
His fears turned out to be justified. He asked the home’s administrator about the women and was told they were relatives. But Miller didn’t believe him. As more strangers floated in and out, he felt an uneasy sense of foreboding. "So I Googled the property,” he said, "and was blown away to find that it had been in foreclosure since December 2010."
Most disturbing to Miller was the lack of warning that his home was foreclosed. Despite a law put into force in January 2012 that expressly requires the people operating the homes to inform residents about the change, those in charge did not tell him that Morning Glory was in foreclosure. Nor had he been given any warning about his previous two residences. "The first home was bank-owned and being put up for auction,” he said. "The second one -- there was a notice on the door -- and [the owner] yanked it off so we couldn't see it."
Miller’s experience of moving to three different facilities in just over a year's time -- and the possibility that he’ll have to move to a fourth -- may be extreme. But the elderly having to shuffle from home to home is certainly not a rarity in boom-and-bust California, where about 170,000 individualsuals live in residential care facilities that in some areas face alarming foreclosure rates. A state law requiring owners and administrators of these homes to inform authorities and residents if they miss a mortgage payment seems little more than words on paper. In many cases, the authorities are as much in the dark about a home’s financial troubles as the residents and their families.
The state Department of Social Services only has the personnel to check up on 30 percent of these homes each year, according to the California Health and Human Services Agency. Those serving as long-term care ombudsmen, who visit the homes regularly, are many times similarly uninformed about a home's status change.
"We often don't know that a place is closed until we knock on the door," said John Lord, a long-term care ombudsman in Vallejo.
When it comes to health and quality of life, experts are inclined to agree that moving often and abruptly is a bad idea for the elderly, especially for those who are frail or suffering from conditions such as dementia. "The trauma for them becomes being in a new setting where nothing is familiar, and they don't know how to adjust," said Ruth Gay, director of public policy and advocacy for the Alzheimer's Association of Northern California and Nevada. "It manifests in things like agitation, aggression, fear, withdrawal, and people start to decline ... They are at risk for falling, not eating well, and all of those things can be a vicious cycle downward."
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Elder Care Homes Ensnared By Foreclosure Crisis In California