It had been nearly a month since Florida's Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) imposed a freeze on admissions at Carlyle on the Bay, an assisted-living facility in the Miami subdivision of Miramar, just north of the former Omni Mall. Yet despite the moratorium placed on the facility by state regulators, Carlyle administrator Rose Wilson continued to operate in violation of state laws. This past February, after more than eleven years of chronic deficiencies at the Carlyle, numerous citations, corrective action plans, and a halt on admissions, the AHCA took an unprecedented step when state officials levied seven administrative complaints against the facility and slapped its owners with fines totaling $138,000. Within weeks of receiving the last fine, the Carlyle's three principal co-owners put the property at 1900 N. Bayshore Dr. up for sale.
In mid-April a group of Carlyle investors, including Burton Weisberg, Harvey Silverstone, and Stanley Neimark, sold the ten-story building overlooking Biscayne Bay for about five million dollars. "It was no longer a profitable venture," Weisberg says succinctly. (The building is being renovated into luxury condominiums to be called Parkshore on the Bay.) Then the threesome disbanded without having cleared their debt with the state. At press time the AHCA had not begun formal collection proceedings. Indeed it remains uncertain whether the regulatory agency will even enforce payment. "We're not a collection agency," argues Kim Reed, spokesperson for the AHCA. After the agency files a final order to collect, the former Carlyle owners have twenty days to respond. The AHCA can also seek payment in circuit court. "We're doing everything within the confines of the law, and we will pursue what is pursuable," asserts AHCA official Pat Glynne. "Remember, the laws and codes that govern assisted-living facilities aren't written by the AHCA. They're written by the legislature."
In the months following the Carlyle's May 23 closing, several residents and their families came forward with claims against the assisted-living facility. Among their allegations: In addition to lousy service and conditions, the former Carlyle owners also owe them money. "There was a whole lot of robbin' going on," says 80-year-old Ellen Cooper, a Carlyle resident for five years, who alleges Wilson rented out her room in 1998 without notice while Cooper was in the hospital for three months and was still paying rent. "They cleaned out my room and put all my belongings into plastic bags while I was gone," Cooper says. Though Wilson reserved a bed for Cooper at the Carlyle during the resident's hospitalization, the administrator may have broken the law when she moved her without notice. "I went through hell and back at the Carlyle," continues Cooper, while sitting in the lush lobby of the Presidential Place, her new home in Hollywood. "Here I made myself at home in two days." So much so that within a few months Cooper traded her wheelchair for walking shoes. "I'm so happy now. If I had a mother, I'd put her here in a New York minute," adds the blue-eyed Midwesterner.
On January 26, citing multiple violations of state regulations, AHCA inspectors hand-delivered an order for immediate moratorium (ceasing of admissions) to Rose Wilson. The action was prompted by uncorrected infractions from a past investigation and new violations detected during another inspection. But Wilson allegedly ignored the moratorium and continued to operate short of the law. (Numerous attempts to reach Wilson were unsuccessful; Silverstone and Neimark also failed to return calls.)
Then, on February 8, during a followup to the freeze, inspectors noted medical records still remained incomplete and staff had not stopped administering drugs in an unsafe manner. Some residents were not given their meds as prescribed by a physician, others received them too late, and still others went for days without them. On February 13 the AHCA levied the first four fines against the Carlyle. The assisted-living facility was fined three more times on March 1. (Officials explained they would avoid closing a facility because there is a scarcity of places for the aged and mentally challenged.)
More than a month later, residents and their families received a letter from Lourdes Franco, the Carlyle's former resident-care director, who in March replaced Wilson as administrator. The letter notified Carlyle residents the facility would close in late May. Residents would have to move within 30 days.
On April 30 owners Weisberg, Silverstone, and Neimark voluntarily surrendered their license to the AHCA. Not surprisingly, they did so without giving the agency a 90-day notice before shutting down, as required by law. AHCA did not fine the Carlyle. "Frankly we have other priorities to deal with in this case," says Greg Rice, a government operations consultant for the AHCA's assisted-living facility licensing office.
For the AHCA the main concern was relocating 101 residents, a mix of seniors and mental-health patients, living at the Carlyle. Most ended up at the Williamsburg at 11190 Biscayne Blvd. Others went to places with bucolic names such as Breezy Acres, Comfort Castle, Nightingale Gardens, Willow Manor, and Orange Blossom, scattered all over Miami-Dade.
Eighty-four-year-old Joffrette "Vicky" Bodnar, a former Carlyle resident who had been living at the facility since October 1999, ended up at Royal Retirement Villa at 1270 NE 112th St. According to her nephew John Wenckelium, chaos reigned at the Carlyle in the weeks before closing. "In my Aunt Vicky's case, she became very stressed out," says Wenckelium from his home in Rhode Island. "They moved her from the eighth floor to the second floor. There was a lot of shuffling going on. I think it led to confusion in the building. My aunt, for instance, requested being hospitalized during the transition."
In the fall of 1999, Wenckelium, who says he handles his aunt's affairs, began searching for just the right assisted-living facility for Vicky. "I contacted quite a few of them before deciding on the Carlyle," he says.
Bodnar had never lived in an assisted-care home, and Wenckelium wanted reassurance his aunt would feel secure in her new environment. (Bodnar, a resident of Miami-Dade for 25 years, lived in Homestead until Hurricane Andrew hit and then moved into an apartment in Miami Lakes until she started becoming "forgetful," her nephew says.) It didn't take much for Rose Wilson to sell Wenckelium on the Carlyle. "[Wilson] came across as a very helpful person at first," Wenckelium says. "But as time went on she started not returning my calls for updates on my aunt, questions primarily dealing with her health and about the imminent closing of the facility in May."
By February, Wenckelium alleges, all communications with Wilson had ceased. Perhaps this was owing to the nature of Wenckelium's calls; he was trying to collect $8900 he claims the Carlyle owes his aunt. For about ten months prior, beginning in February 2000, the Carlyle stopped receiving electronic checks from social security as payment for part of Bodnar's rent. "There was some kind of lapse on the Carlyle's part in getting paperwork in, and that's why social security began withholding the checks," Wenckelium alleges. Bodnar compensated by paying the $1500 monthly rent with money from her savings and from her deceased husband's veteran's pension. Then this past February, social security released Bodnar's money to the Carlyle in a lump sum of $8900 to give to the resident. But Bodnar says she never received it.
According to Wenckelium, he tried contacting Wilson, but she never returned his calls. Then, in late April, a few days after reading the letter announcing the Carlyle's impending close, Wenckelium finally spoke to Lourdes Franco, who had been newly hired as the facility's administrator. "She [Franco] told me there was nothing to worry about, that my aunt would get her money back," Wenckelium says. Franco even sent Wenckelium a statement with the amount owed, stating that Bodnar would receive a check for $8900 within 45 days of terminating residency at the facility. Bodnar ended her contract with the Carlyle on May 31 and moved to Royal Retirement Villa; she'd been released during the chaotic days before the Carlyle's closing.
Forty-five days passed and no Carlyle check came in the mail. Wenckelium claims he called Carlyle co-owner Burton Weisberg and left him a message, but Weisberg denies receiving a message. "I can honestly tell you I know nothing about these cases," Weisberg maintains. "And in fact we've already paid money to residents who've filed claims with us." Subsequent calls made by New Times to Stanley Neimark and Harvey Silverstone went unanswered. And, Wenckelium insists, "as of today, we haven't received a penny."
Bernard and Rose Stern, an elderly couple now living in the Peninsula on Hallandale Beach Boulevard, claim they also are owed money. Just as residents were being moved to other facilities, the Sterns made a formal complaint to the Longterm Care Ombudsman Council, a program funded by the state and made up mostly of volunteers who inspect assisted-living facilities and advocate for the rights of the elderly. An Ombudsman lawyer is now working on the case. "We'll make a formal complaint to AHCA if we don't come to an agreement with Burton Weisberg," says Ramon Keppis, coordinator for the Ombudsman Council of North Dade and Miami Beach, one of two councils serving North and South Miami-Dade.
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But AHCA officials insist residents must pursue their claims through civil court. Because Carlyle owners voluntarily surrendered their license, civil matters fall out of the agency's jurisdiction, AHCA employees Greg Rice and Kim Reed explain.
Ellen Cooper, a former Carlyle resident, says she's not owed money but alleges items of personal value were stolen from her room. "Honey, someone stole my gold watch, a gold locket I had with a diamond inside, eighteen-karat-gold faceted earrings, and four Saint Anthony dollars. Out of Hell, into Heaven," Cooper sighs with relief while giving a tour of her cozy studio apartment at Presidential Place in Hollywood. "Rose Wilson reminded me of a cobra with her black eyes. And you never knew when she would strike."
Cooper, an avid reader of John Grisham novels, who keeps her books in tote bags hanging from her walker, alleges she was often forced to share a room with the mental-health patients who also resided at the Carlyle. One day, Cooper says, she walked into her room, turned on the light, and her roommate threatened her: "She said, Cooper, turn out the light or I'm gonna kill you.' So I called the police. Of course when the police arrived, Rose Wilson gave them the impression I was the crazy one.
"I broke my body, my dear, but I haven't lost my mind."