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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Residents Protest Atria Covell Gardens Rate Hikes and Lack of Service

Atria Responds by Kicking Reporters and Public Officials Off Their Property

Around 30 residents of the Atria Covell Gardens assisted living facility came out this morning protesting not only the rental increase but also the conditions under which they live. They described in detail problems that occurred during the recent storms and power outage and the lack of action and concern from Atria Covell Gardens. During the course of the protest, resident expressed outrage at the severity of the double-digit rate hikes and the lack of service received during an emergency situation nearly a month ago.

In response, Atria asked members of the press, the media, and public officials to leave their property.

Carol Terry of the Grey Panthers said:
"We're appalled by what happened here and what we've heard about conditions under which people have had to live. We've heard about huge rent increases on people with limited incomes... We understand that for forty hours there was no heat, no light, no amenities of any kind. The staff did not check on the residents; the residents were left to their own devices... We don't know all of the details, but everything that we've heard is appalling, that a facility where people pay more than I have in social security money were treated in this way. We believe that there were legal covenants that perhaps were not sufficient to protect the residents and we will work with the legislature to make sure they are improved."
A resident said that she has been here for a number of years and it has really gone down hill since Atria's been running it.

Another resident, Sheila, told the crowd that she is 83 years old and her husband is 88. She talked about the amount of money that is going to the rent increases for her husband and herself. It totaled around $5000 last year, another $3000 this year, and she expects another increase next year. Pointedly she said, "I would call this elder abuse."

Gilda lives in Atria with her husband. Her husband is on oxygen. After losing electricity during the storm, the obviously caused a huge problem. No one in administration contacted them to find out what their needs were. She in the end had to call the pulmonary company that supplied them with the oxygen and at 10:30 at night he brought out cannisters that supplied the oxygen for purposes of travel or other issues of mobility for a two hour period.

According to her, two of the administrators,
"instructed me on how to use the portable tanks. But they also... said that they would never be able to help me again. Because they are not allowed to... The AL's cannot help you with oxygen."
Her husband is one of several people who require oxygen. Each person that is on oxygen is supposed to be responsible for them for themselves.

Another resident told the crowd that:
"Robert Godfrey, the executive direct, has told us that there will not be a generator here. They are not going to get a generator even though we found that we could not function until they went out and rented one."

Councilmember Lamar Heystek spoke to the crowd and told them that he was honored to be a neighbor of Covell Gardens.
"When we talked a month ago, we talked about a rent increase that compounded one from last year that exacerbates an already very difficult situation for our most precarious residents here at Atria Covell Gardens. With the recent blackout, with the recent power outages, with the recent failures that can be spread around, there's enough blame to go around for everyone, we really have to ask ourselves what does the rate increase, what does the rent increase actually buy?

Did that buy the residents of Atria Covell Gardens more security in the event of an emergency? As a city councilmember and as your neighbor, I do not believe that it has done that.

Has it been able to buy peace of mind, has it been able to buy some level of security, for the folks that live here, in the event of a national disaster? I don't believe that it has."
Councilmember Heystek saw two fundamental issues at stake.
"First of all whether or not this rent increase was justified. I think the people here can form some kind of consensus that they were excessive.

The second issue is whether or not the rate or rent increase has purchased better quality of life for the people that live in this facility. Or if we think that there is a prospect of an enhanced quality of life."
The councilmember urged more pressure on the senior citizens commission and the city council. The issue of emergency response will come before council on February 12."

There is a good deal of concern as to what can be done at this point to help the residents not only with the issue of rental increase but also the problem of emergency preparedness.

At the time, the Vanguard was extremely critical of the city's emergency response and there were a good deal of people who argued that this was not an emergency, it was an inconvenience. For a young and able body person such as myself, it is an inconvenience. For a person at an assisted living facility, it is an emergency. Not having electricity can be fatal for people who require it to survive. Not having heat can be very dangerous for elderly people. The failure of the owners of the facilities to properly prepare and deal with the emergency is mind boggling.

As I stood at the rally reporting on this event, I was asked to leave the property by one of the staffers who is photographed above. I was not alone. They told Councilmember Heystek to leave the property. And they told the TV camerapeople to leave the property.

I spoke to the Councilmember shortly after the event from the public sidewalk.

"I was told to leave the property," the Councilmember said. "She said not to be on the property. She told me and the reporter not to be on their property."

I asked him for his reaction to this event:
"My reaction to the activism of our seniors is a good deal of pride in our greatest generation.

My reaction to the lack of service, the lack of basic service on the part of Atria Covell Gardens is one of great disappointment and that is an understatement. Their lack of service during the blackouts, adds insult to injury to the back-to-back double-digit rate increases that have been seen by these residents.

I don't think the rate increases to these residents add to the enhancement of their quality of life. I hope that there's that prospect, I'm disappointed that residents were underserved yet are paying more to live here. It's simply greatly disappointing."
Unfortunately, the city feels that there is only a limited role that they can perform since Atria Covell Gardens is a private facility. The councilmember urged public pressure on the legislative process and on the company.

I was disappointed to see that the reaction by this company to their residents protesting was an attempt to keep the press, members of the public, and public officials off their private property, rather than concern for the welfare of their residents and any attempt to redress the grievances that were serious, manifold, and pervasive both in terms of the impact of the rental increase and the lack of service provided during a period of crisis.

We will all one day be seniors, hopefully, and I can only hope that we as a community can come together and demand that the aged population is treated with the dignity and care they have earned through their long lives of service to this community and this nation.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting