January 5, 2013

Officials investigate care of elderly displaced by storm

Many residents forced to evacuate by Superstorm Sandy are still living in oppressive conditions.

By DAVID B. CARUSO The Associated Press

NEW YORK - A nursing home and an assisted living facility are under scrutiny by state officials and an advocacy group after The Associated Press disclosed that hundreds of elderly and disabled people forced to evacuate by Superstorm Sandy were still sleeping on cots in cramped and sometimes oppressive conditions almost two months later.

New York's attorney general sent two investigators to the Bishop Henry B. Hucles Episcopal Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center in Brooklyn last week after the AP reported that the home was swollen to nearly double its 240-bed licensed capacity with evacuees from the storm-damaged Rockaway Care Center on the Queens seashore.

As of Christmas, many of those patients were still sleeping, field-hospital style, on rows of cots squeezed into community rooms, a rehabilitation gym and the nursing home's tiny chapel.

The state's Office of Long Term Care Ombudsman also dispatched a representative to check on conditions. State Health Department officials were independently investigating how one patient walked out of the facility unnoticed on a cold Friday night, only to turn up at a hospital two days later.

Separately, a legal aid group, MFY Legal Services, is questioning why disabled and elderly residents of Belle Harbor Manor, an adult care home in Queens, were still being asked to sign over most of their monthly Social Security checks to the facility to cover room and board even though they have been flooded out of their rooms since Halloween.

After the storm, those residents were sent to an emergency shelter, then to an overcrowded hotel, and finally to a halfway house for the mentally ill. During that time, many residents have continued to pay rent to Belle Harbor Manor.

"We haven't had any services in the last three months. But he has been getting our rent. What I want to know is, 'Where is this money going?'" asked resident Alex Woods, 57. "After what we went through, he should be paying us."

MFY senior lawyer Shelly Weizman said it isn't clear whether residents are legally obligated to keep paying when they have effectively been evicted by the storm.

At Belle Harbor and many other adult care homes in New York, residents sign an agreement when they first arrive that obligates them to turn over their Social Security checks to the facility, which uses most of the money to cover housing and care. Administrators return a small portion to the residents in the form of an allowance.

Now, Weizman said, "they are paying, but they aren't getting the services. It is a confusing situation."

Residents got their latest benefit checks on Jan. 3. A few did decide to withhold their January rent payment, which for many residents was around $1,200, Weizman said.

A spokeswoman for Episcopal Health Services, which owns the Bishop Hucles nursing home, said administrators expect the state will give the Rockaway Care Center approval to reopen in about a week.

 

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