UPPER WEST SIDE — A health care provider serving more than two-dozen Alzheimer's patients is fighting to stay in a luxury building past the end of the year, after the landlord decided to sever ties with the group rather than make architectural changes to the building.
The Esplanade, a "luxury" senior living facility on West End Avenue at West 74th Street, announced last month that it was terminating its contract with Alzheimer's service provider Hearthstone after 20 years, initially giving patients just two week's notice to make alternate plans.
The building made headlines earlier this year, when a brick fell from the front of the structure and fatally struck a 2-year-old girl sitting in her stroller.
In order to continue using Hearthstone, which provides 24-hour care and programming for Alzheimer's patients, the Esplanade would have had to "make certain architectural changes to their facility to comply with regulations for licensure," said a spokesman for the state Department of Health.
"They chose not to [make the changes] and instead to transition to independent senior housing," he said.
It was not clear what the mandated architectural changes entailed.
Hearthstone has been operating without a license and has been trying to secure one with the state DOH for the past 10 years, according to elected officials and patient relatives.
"Esplanade needed to come to an agreement with DOH once DOH made it clear they weren’t granting Hearthstone a license. That agreement was what facilitated ending the relationship with Hearthstone," a building spokesman said.
"As for the short notice period, it was driven by a desire to bring the building into compliance."
Families of the 27 Alzheimer's patients living on the building's seventh floor were initially told they had only two weeks to find new care for their relatives or move them — an outrageously short time period for such a major decision, residents and elected officials said at the time.
Amid protests from politicians and residents, management at Esplanade came to an agreement with Hearthstone on Friday to allow the organization to continue operating in the building until Jan. 1 to "make for a smoother transition," the building spokesman said.
Hearthstone is nonetheless fighting the decision, requesting a temporary restraining order to halt the move-out process, according to court documents. A judge will decide on the TRO at a Nov. 5 hearing.
"Certainly two months is much better and leaves open why that didn't happen in the first place," said Judith Goldiner, whose 84-year-old aunt is one of the Alzheimer's patients at the Esplanade.
"But to panic families by giving two weeks notice is ridiculous, and two months is still a short period of time to find a place that can [provide] this kind of care."
The termination was first announced via an Oct. 13 letter stating that patients' families had 14 days to select an independent home care provider to start within 20 days at the Esplanade.
After the state DOH approved of the original timeline, both Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and City Comptroller Scott Stringer wrote the agency decrying the decision, calling it "unrealistic, unfair to the residents and their families, and simply unacceptable," Stringer said.
For Goldiner's family, finding independent 24-hour care for her aunt is both incredibly expensive and not the same as what Hearthstone provides, she said.
Patients will lose the continuity of their care, and individual providers won't run group activities like checkers or bingo, as Hearthstone did, Goldiner explained.
These activities help "their quality of life and helps them stay sharper for longer — that’s what the research shows," she added.
Her family chose the Esplanade because Goldiner's mother lives across the street and can regularly check on her sister. Finding good care — let alone any care — for this population is difficult, she claimed.
"The Hearthstone people provide really excellent care," Goldiner said. "Everyone was very happy with their care."
Many patients view Hearthstone staff as "an extension of their own families," Rosenthal wrote in her letter to the DOH blasting the two-week deadline.
The abruptness of the decision to cut ties with Hearthstone has been baffling to residents' families.
"The inadequacy of resident notice is even more profoundly disturbing in light of the fact that DOH has been in negotiations with the Esplanade to secure licensure for Hearthstone for approximately 10 years," Rosenthal added.
The DOH denied the license request in early October, precipitating the decision by the Esplanade to remove them quickly, the building spokesman said.
But Goldiner isn't buying that explanation.
"The [Esplanade] made this happen. They went to DOH... it’s not like the DOH all of a sudden decided, 'We have to close this down,'" she said. "It's not like they’re searching out [programs to close], unless something is really bad."
Hearthstone was not available for comment.
A spokesman of the state DOH issued the following statement:
"The NYS Department of Health has been very sensitive to the needs of the Esplanade’s residents, and has encouraged and worked collaboratively with the owners of the Esplanade and the Hearthstone program to comply with licensing requirements. The owners of the Esplanade chose, instead of licensure, to transition to independent senior housing."