Judge orders Park Slope assisted living facility service restored as case winds through court
Rules DOH closure plan of Prospect Park Residence invalid
On Monday, a contempt hearing against a Park Slope assisted living facility’s owner was pushed back until after the holidays by a Brooklyn judge. The owner has allegedly been cutting back on services to seniors in an attempt to deliver an empty building to developers.
Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Wayne Saitta ordered Haysha Deitsch, owner of the Prospect Park Residence, to restore services during this interval, or face contempt charges.
On Friday, the judge had ruled that the state Department of Health’s closure plan was invalid.
Attorneys for Deitsch negotiated with lawyers for the eight remaining residents –average age well over 90 — who have dug in their heels and refused to leave, despite rotten food, filthy halls and cutbacks in services, supporters say. Residents pay more than $4,000 a month to stay at the home.
Deitsch has agreed to a number of stipulations – including restoring activities, lighting hallways, providing heat and serving healthy food – while negotiations continue over a tangle of lawsuits involving the sale of the facility.
He may also have to agree to bar his associate Mark Moskowitz from the building. Residents alleged that Moskowitz has been “intimidating people.”
Annemarie Mogil, 92, awaited her chance to tell the judge personally what she thinks of Deitsch. “It’s been intimidation and harassment. The fruit is rotten, my drinking glass is dirty, there are dirty papers on my chair,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. “He’s being mean to whoever is in there.”
She showed this reporter a rotten and smelly orange she had been served yesterday. “In a word – I’m pissed off,” she said, to the applause of supporters, including a group of artist activists known as “We Will Not Be Silent,” who have been backing up the seniors in their quest for fair treatment.
“We are all connected,” said artist Sarah Wellington. “We can’t let this happen anywhere.”
Fellow artist Laurie Arbeiter said her 92-year-old father was within an inch of moving into the facility after surgery almost a year ago. At the last minute, he decided to remain in his apartment in Flushing where he has lived for more than 60 years. When Arbeiter heard what was happening to the home she called her father and said, “Dad, we just missed a terrible crisis.”
Joyce Singer, whose mother Alice, age 90, is also a resident, said she was not entirely happy with the delay.
“I would prefer to hold the contempt hearing today. Deitsch is afraid of [the seniors’] testimony.”
Vicky Sell, a staffer for City Councilmember Brad Lander — but speaking as the daughter of a former resident — said she had to move her mother out of the home to a less appropriate facility in Manhattan.
Instead of her mother being able to come over for dinner and receive daily visits from family members, “I struggle to see her two times a week,” Sell said. “She will deteriorate much faster, I have no doubt.”
Questions remain unanswered, including who will monitor Deitsch’s compliance.
DOH closure plan ruled invalid
Families of the elderly residents were shocked to learn in court recently that the landlord had made an agreement back in January to sell the property for $76 million.
The deal would only close if Deitsch cleared the elderly out of the 4th floor dementia unit and obtained a final discharge plan approved by the New York State Department of Health (DOH).
Deitsch emptied the dementia unit by June 2, and DOH approved a closure plan on Feb. 24. In March, Deitsch gave roughly 130 seniors just 90 days to move out. Many were more than 100 years old, and some have since died from the stress, supporters said.
On Nov. 21, Justice Saitta ruled the DOH closure plan was not valid.
The judge’s ruling may dash Deitsch’s plan to keep the $7.6 million deposit he received from the group that had been aiming to buy the building, One PPW Residence, LLC. One PPW Residence refused to close on the property because, they contended, DOH approval was not “final.” The judge’s ruling on Friday may back up their contention.
Attorney John O’Hara, who is representing six people suing Deitsch for wrongful death — including the family of famed Brooklyn “Kung Fu judge” John Phillips – told the Eagle the judge’s Nov. 21 decision “was a big hurdle for the seniors to cross.”
In his ruling, Justice Saitta wrote, “The statute requires DOH to approve and supervise a closure plan that ensures that the residents are transferred to facilities that are appropriate for their individual needs and that services be continued during the closure process…”
However, Saitta wrote, “There has not been any evidence produced that the operator has assessed the Plaintiffs’ individual needs and preferences or has found facilities that are appropriate given the Plaintiffs’ individual needs and preferences.”
Saitta added, “The Plaintiffs still in residence are in their nineties, two are holocaust survivors, several suffer from dementia, and all have severe infirmities. Assessing their individual needs in order to find an appropriate placement is not a mere technicality.”
Black eye for DOH?
The judge’s ruling, on top of Deitsch’s allegedly callous treatment of the elderly casts, the actions of the state DOH in an unflattering light.
Sandy Reiburn, the daughter of a former resident, questioned why DOH issued a license to Deitsch last year despite a record of practices so unsafe DOH had ordered him to discharge dozens of patients to licensed facilities in 2009 and 2012.
Reiburn said, “The question we need to ask is: does anyone who can fill out the DOH bureaucratic requirements get a license … irrespective of his documented history of malfeasance?”
Attorney O’Hara alleges that Deitsch ignored DOH’s orders to find suitable facilities for the 36 infirm residents, “and they all died. That’s a big pile of dead bodies.”
Councilmember Lander said in a release earlier this month that he is “appalled that the Governor and the NYS Department of Health have failed to protect our seniors from exploitation and abuse.”
Deitsch, in his own press release on Nov. 19 said the residence “has been the subject to politically motivated stunts, false characterizations and irresponsible assertions intended to alarm and provoke its residents.”
A spokesperson for Prospect Park residence would not comment further, “In light of the fact that there is a pending legal matter.”
The seniors have been receiving help from the Legal Aid Society, MFY Legal Services and pro-bono representation from Fitzpatrick, Cella, along with Councilmember Brad Lander, Assemblypersons James Brennan and Joan Millman and Public Advocate Letitia James.
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