PARK SLOPE — The operator of troubled Prospect Park Residence senior home has ordered the facility's remaining residents to leave the building by May 23 — a "traumatic" move that could prove fatal for some, lawyers charge in a new lawsuit.
Attorneys for the five elderly women who still live at Prospect Park Residence filed a lawsuit April 19 against the state Department of Health and Health Commissioner Howard Zucker over the latest plan to close the facility.
The new lawsuit is the latest chapter in a 2-year legal battle by the facility's dwindling number of residents. Their ranks once included a Holocaust survivor and a Tuskegee airman, but now the only surviving residents are five women, four of whom are in their 90s and one who is 101, according to the lawsuit.
Prospect Park Residence's owner, developer Haysha Deitsch, has been trying to close the facility since 2014 so he can turn the building, on Prospect Park West overlooking Grand Amy Plaza, into high-end residential real estate.
The lawsuit contends that DOH, which oversees assisted living facilities, violated state health laws, residents' rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act when it approved a plan to shutter the facility and evict residents by May 23.
"The DOH sees its responsibility to operators of assisted living facilities and not to the people who live in them," said Judith Goldiner, attorney in charge in the civil law reform unit of Legal Aid Society, which filed the action on behalf of the seniors. "They’ve made that clear throughout the whole process here."
Rosenman informed Prospect Park Residence residents March 3 that they had until May 23 to get out, according to the lawsuit.
"Such an announcement would be traumatizing to anyone, but to elderly and frail residents of PPR, it was utterly devastating, posing a serious threat to their physical and emotional well-being," attorneys wrote in the filing.
They added later, "The move will be ultimately traumatic for plaintiffs, many of whom may not survive the transition out of PPR."
Rosenman could not be reached for comment Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Health said the agency could not comment on active litigation.
In his role as receiver, Rosenman is mandated by state law to help the seniors find new accommodations comparable to Prospect Park Residence. The residents' lawyers say he's failed at that task and has recommended the seniors move to "woefully deficient alternative residences that he, at times, acknowledged were unsuitable."
In some cases Rosenman has recommended new facilities that are "prohibitively expensive" or very far from family, according to the lawsuit. Some of the suggested facilities don't allow private aides, though many PPR residents rely on such caregivers, lawyers said in the filing.
Given their scant options, many of the residents will probably end up in more restrictive settings such as nursing homes, the lawsuit alleges.
Though the residents' attorneys were hopeful the receiver would improve conditions at Prospect Park Residence, the opposite has happened since he took over, according to the lawsuit.
Elevators haven't been maintained, there's a shrinking number of staff, including security personnel, and housekeeping services and food quality have declined, the lawsuit claims.
The receiver did little to fix a leak and flood in the dining area, Goldiner said, so now the remaining residents can't eat together and instead take their meals alone in their rooms.
"I'm shaking my head about how sad it is and how little progress we've made," Goldiner said.
Most of the facility's 130 residents moved out after the impending closure was announced in 2014, but many suffered from the transition, lawyers said in their latest lawsuit.
A number of them have been "unable to recover from the physical and mental strain," and one former resident was so upset by the move that a doctor had to prescibe medication for panic attacks and crying jags, according to the lawsuit.
Residents also filed a lawsuit in 2014 over PPR's closure, and a judge ordered the facility to stay open until the legal action was resolved. That lawsuit is ongoing.
Deitsch recently hit back with his own lawsuit against the remaining residents, suing their families for $50 million claiming they were "scheming" to block his development plans.
While his plans to sell the Prospect Park Residence building have stalled, Deitsch is moving forward with a condo development on Fourth Avenue.