After Golden West’s decision to close an assisted living facility, residents fear losing a ‘safety net’

Earlier this month, after Golden West announced the closure of its assisted living facility and gave residents 60 days to move out, Mike Morrison said he had called 40 providers across the Front Range to try to track down his mother and sister, who both live there, another place to live.

“There’s no other place with two rooms together,” Morrison said. “If I shipped them, each of them to a different part of Colorado, we wouldn’t be a family anymore.”

His sister has cerebral palsy and his mother is 92 and suffers from memory loss, he said. He wants them to stay together and close so he can take care of them.

Morrison said he had sent in a request for them to live next door at the independent living house in Golden West known as Towers. He had no news.

“I wish we had more time,” he said. “It left me unable to come up with a plan B.”

On Jan. 4, Golden West, a Boulder-based nonprofit, announced it was closing the assisted living home, located at 1055 Adams Circle, for financial reasons. The nonprofit plans to keep the towers, a federally funded independent living home for the elderly, open, although it is ending the restoration program.

The closure of assisted living, effective March 4, will displace at least 33 residents, many of whom will require day-to-day care for underlying health conditions, such as dementia. Some have built a support system over the years that their families fear, if lost, will not be replaced.

The two months’ notice will likely force them to scatter across Colorado in search of a new home with virtually no time to spare.

“I look as far as Lakewood and Loveland, even as far as California,” said Daniel Wentworth, a 67-year-old Army veteran who moved into the assisted living facility about a year ago. “Everything in Boulder is on a waiting list. And we don’t have time to be put on a waiting list.

Most residents rely on Medicaid, which pays caregivers to administer medications and prepare meals, among other daily tasks. Without the subsidy, they would pay around $5,000 per month.

The Golden West assisted living facility, known as the Mezzanine, is the latest in the city of Boulder to accept Medicaid. Some residents who do not require medical care are considering foregoing these assisted living services and transitioning to independent living. It might save them money and allow them to stay in Boulder.

“At 76, I have to go somewhere else and start all over again,” said a resident of the Mezzanine who asked to remain anonymous for fear that it would jeopardize her chances of finding accommodation.

Getting into the towers is not likely for most. The 253 limited-income independent living apartments are about 94% occupied, with about 12 rooms open, according to the company. And, in recent weeks, the property management company that Golden West has hired has raised the rent, according to locals. It also requires residents to demonstrate an annual income of approximately $27,000 for a studio.

John Torres, the nonprofit’s acting chief executive, said about eight residents had been treated to move to another home. One is moving to Washington state, he said, in part to be closer to family.

Many residents know physical therapists, housekeeping staff and other workers by name. Torres said about 20 employees will be laid off due to the closure. He said many planned to continue working until March 4.

“I think there’s a trauma,” Torres said of the transition. “This kind of change is monumental.”

Some residents have asked if they can stay at assisted living studios, even if their services disappear. Torres said that was unlikely due to potential costs, such as installing kitchens.

“It would be difficult,” he said. “We really need to control spending there at the moment and then take a step back and figure out how to move forward.”

The city of Boulder said it offered money to prevent the closure

Over the past year, at least four Boulder County assisted living facilities have closed, according to county officials. The closures reflect the broader financial difficulties facing the long-term care sector. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant that more people are aging in place rather than in elderly communities.

Meanwhile, inflation and the high cost of living, especially in places like Boulder, have caused caregivers to seek higher salaries, driving up the cost of assisted living. While Colorado has increased its Medicaid reimbursement rates in recent years, those payments have not kept up with the cost of running these businesses, providers say.

Golden West’s situation was complicated by its $25 million renovation, which was completed just months before the closure was announced. Golden West’s first units opened in 1965, and the renovation included replacing carpeting and installing new windows and cabinetry.

For years, income from independent living has essentially subsidized assisted living. But in part to help pay for the renovations, the organization split the two homes into two separate businesses, Torres said. As a result, the residence for autonomous persons was no longer able to subsidize the assisted living residence, which has always struggled to reach its break-even point.

Late last year, the organization’s board of directors met with Boulder city officials to discuss the possibility of closing its assisted living facility, according to Kurt Firnhaber, director of housing and city ​​social services.

Firnhaber said the city has come up with ideas to prevent the closure, including providing city funding or housing vouchers to subsidize the cost of residents living there.

“I felt like we were going to find a solution where Golden West would be able to continue with assisted living,” Firnhaber told Boulder Reporting Lab. “I was a bit shocked, and even more worried, that they ended up going in this direction.”

Torres said the offers weren’t enough to keep the assisted living facility open. He said the city had offered to put formerly homeless people, who would be subsidized with vouchers, on a separate floor. In terms of funding, he said Golden West would have needed at least $2 million a year, for several years, to cover costs. He said he was unaware that an offer of that amount had ever been made.

Torres was CEO of Golden West for 26 years before retiring in March 2020. He took over as interim chief executive following the resignation of John McCarthy, who served in the role from March 2020 to January 2023. Council members have been advised not to speak to reporters.

Erica Corson, seniors’ rights program manager at the Boulder County Area Agency on Aging, said the county learned of the closure the day the organization announced it to residents and staff. She said it has since helped residents navigate the transition, which includes ensuring their benefits transfer to new homes. The City of Boulder Senior Services also provides case managers to help people through the transition. They can be reached by calling 303-441-4388.

‘Sense of closure’

Even residents who don’t lose their homes were shocked by the news. Some people who live in the towers have long planned to move to assisted living if they needed more support.

“My son was happy that he helped out,” Lynette Wood, 76, said of Golden West before moving into independent living. “He said, ‘Mom, if there is a time when you need to go to assisted living, it will be there and you can move.’ And now that won’t be the case.

In 2022, Golden West hired Silva-Markham Partners, a Denver-based property management firm that touts “effective practices and solutions with proven cost-cutting systems.” Since then, several residents interviewed said staff no longer called them to check in and see if they were okay.

The dining hall, which some residents rely on for daily meals, will close soon. Others make it a gathering place.

“The dining room is social,” said Marc Killinger, 68, who lives in the towers. “It’s just the feeling of closing in, and things are so up in the air, and what’s going to happen to us.”

As residents prepare to move, a carer said they are collecting phone numbers so they don’t lose contact. Some people have been together for a decade or more.

“We spoke openly about death and dying – meaningful conversations. Aging and loss of functionality, loss of your family and your environment,” said Wentworth, who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer before transitioning to assisted living.

Joan Raderman, founder and program director for Circle of Care, a local nonprofit that provides art programs for seniors, said her organization has worked with Golden West residents for more than a decade. .

Raderman said the shutdown would divide a community that depends on each other.

“It’s their network. It’s their support system. It’s their safety net,” she said. “They move people everywhere who need each other. It’s not just the roof over their heads. It was an emotional support system that developed because they were their friends.

After Golden West’s decision to close an assisted living facility, residents fear losing a ‘safety net’

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