The elderly residents of Prospect Park Residence (PPR) were unceremoniously told on March 5 that they had 90 days to move out of a building in which they had been promised they could age in peace.
In the ensuing months, many residents left, while others stayed to sue both PPR owner Haysha Deitsch and the state Department of Health (DOH). Of the 120 who were living in PPR in March, only a handful remain. For those few, the battle in court has been a lengthy one.
Services in the building — ranging from an activities director to air conditioning to the nutritional value of the food the seniors are served — have been declining since the eviction notice was given.
Even after receiving court orders to return services and make the building as hospitable as it once was, living conditions for the seniors continue to be sub-par, and the DOH, which is in charge of monitoring the services at PPR, continues to say that conditions are fine.
According to one daughter of a remaining resident, who has chosen to remain anonymous for the protection of her parent, Deitsch has orchestrated the court hearings such that he can continue to scare residents into leaving without repercussion.
“From the beginning, the last thing that the owner’s management wants is witness and testimony,” the daughter said. “Every time we have a hearing, they agree the first time to maintain services. They agree and then don’t follow through, and the DOH has monitored in a very lax way, so they get away with reducing services.”
This has resulted in worsened living conditions, which has scared or forced some residents out of the building, she said. She believes that as long as DOH continues to monitor the building, no improvements will be made.
“Unless there is a neutral court-appointed monitor with a time schedule for when these things need to happen, nothing is going to change,” she said.
She explained that furniture and artwork have been removed from the hallways, the same movie is put in over and over again for entertainment and the cleaning women are teaching the seniors’ exercise classes.
All of this while the residents continue to pay the full rate that they were paying before the eviction notice was given, when they had full access to all of PPR’s services.
Judy Willig, whose 90-year-old mother lived at PPR until they decided to move her out a couple of months ago, said that the experience has been “awful.”
Willig is a social worker who specializes in working with the elderly.
“You’re dealing with people who are losing control of their lives in so many ways,” she said, “and then to tell them they have to leave their homes, not by choice, is just another horrible assault.
“I think at least two of the remaining people are Holocaust survivors. You know, I can’t imagine adding more trauma to the lives of people who have lived through so much,” Willig added.
Willig’s mother now lives in a residence at the other end of Brooklyn, cutting the time that the mother and daughter can spend together.
“I think it’s done something to all of us who have lived through it,” Willig said. “And essentially all we were trying to do was let our parents live out their lives near their families and in a community.”
Councilmember Brad Lander, who has worked with the seniors on the court case all summer, called the owner of PPR “terrible.”
“He has shown over and over again that he doesn’t care about anything. He doesn’t care about the law, he doesn’t care about the opinions of people, he doesn’t care about decency,” Lander said.
While the residents must go back to court each time Deitsch fails to follow through with the promised service restorations, their court date regarding the merits of the case is in Sept.
In the end, Lander said, the ideal would be that the seniors would be allowed to remain in PPR, but at minimum, the goal is to “make sure that everyone has all the time that they need to find an appropriate alternative, that they’re not harassed or pushed out and that services are maintained as long as anyone is in the building.”
For Willig, the concern is not just for her own mother, but for elderly residents all across the city.
“I think the bigger story is if it can happen here, what’s going to happen to the assisted living homes and nursing homes in Manhattan and the rest of Brooklyn?” she said. “What really concerns me is that this is an awful precedent. And what protection do our most vulnerable citizens have?”