Brooklyn Boro

OPINION: Impending closure of Prospect Park Residence is a terrible tragedy

December 2, 2014 By Raanan Geberer Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Ruth Willig, 90, with her son Bruce. Photo by Mary Frost

The fracas over the move by owner Haysha Deitsch to evict the remaining elderly residents from the Prospect Park Residence so that the building can then be converted to condominiums is an unpleasant reminder of how “iffy” the state of health care is in Brooklyn today.

While everyone is familiar with the closure of the former Long Island College Hospital, many don’t recall that the Brooklyn Hospital Center and Interfaith Medical Center were also on the “danger” list several years ago.

A Wikipedia page on New York City hospitals that have closed includes plenty of names of Brooklyn institutions, such as Caledonian Hospital, Flatbush General Hospital, Greenpoint Hospital and Unity Hospital in Crown Heights (where this writer’s wife was born).

Now we come to the issue of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities like the Prospect Park Residence, which fall somewhere in between nursing facilities and independent living. Yes, there are some very good facilities, such as the Cobble Hill Health Center.

On the whole, however, they tend to have bad reputations. A friend of mine who is recuperating from an injury at a Manhattan rehab facility, for example, complains about the fact that it took him a week to get his room phone, which he’s paying for, repaired.

The Prospect Park Residence always seemed a cut above such places, which is why its current problems seem so tragic. Its website, which is still intact, says the seniors’ apartments featured individual climate control, a kitchenette, satellite TV, laundry services and local van service for “errands, medical appointments and social outings.” Indeed, it probably isn’t an exaggeration to say that most Brooklyn seniors couldn’t afford to live in the Prospect Park Residence.

As the Eagle has reported, starting in March, owner Deitsch, citing financial hardships, gave residents, many of whom are ill or infirm, 90 days to leave the facility. Now, attorneys representing the small number of remaining tenants are suing Deitsch, saying he hasn’t maintained his agreement to keep providing services for these tenants. A judge has issued an injunction against Deitsch, preventing him from trying to evict them in housing court.

Last Sunday’s Times described conditions at the residence: Hallways are dim, art has been removed from the walls, the wallpaper is peeling, and nutritional meals “have been replaced with fish sticks and hot dogs.”

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On the other end, the firm that Deitsch sold the building to, Sugar Hill Capital Partners, is also suing Deitsch — for not evicting the tenants fast enough.

The world is full of contradictions, and a search of the internet finds that Deitsch recently held a successful fundraiser for an organization benefiting special-needs children in the Orthodox Jewish community of Crown Heights. Clearly, however, someone doesn’t like him — there’s a special web page, “Cherem Haysha Deitsch,” describing how a rabbinical court excommunicated him.

Local officials, as well as Rabbi Andy Bachman of the nearby Park Slope Synagogue, have put the blame on Deitsch. But it probably runs deeper than that. Assemblymember Joan Millman earlier this year worked to establish a temporary commission to investigate the effects of closing long-term care facilities. I would tend to agree with such a recommendation.

No matter what you think caused the closure of the Prospect Park Residence, it’s a terrible tragedy.

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-Raanan Geberer, a freelance writer, recently retired as Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. He had been Managing Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Bulletin until 1996, when the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was revived and merged with the Bulletin.

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