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Foreclosing on Elder Care Homes

As the foreclosure crisis takes its toll across the country, a new set of victims is emerging: older residents of elder care homes.

In California such facilities are increasingly entering bankruptcy and foreclosure, and oftentimes the residents are the last to know.

In the past 16 months Tippy Irwin, executive director for Ombudsman Services of San Mateo County, has dealt with 16 foreclosure or bankruptcy cases. Prior to that she had seen just one instance during her nine-year career in the office, which advocates for residents in long-term care facilities.

In one case, Irwin says, she learned on a Friday that three residents would be evicted and had just one day to secure new placements for them. 

“It’s very stressful for frail elders,” Irwin says.

Now advocates are working to prevent such scenarios. A bill under consideration in the California legislature would require both regulators and residents to be notified at the first sign of a facility’s financial distress.

What makes these cases particularly gut-wrenching is that people have to find an emergency placement when “the sheriffs are physically forcing people out onto the sidewalks,” says Tony Chicotel, staff attorney for California Advocates for Nursing Home Assistance, who hears of a new case somewhere in California about once a week.

Under the proposed law, a missed mortgage payment or a utility shutoff would be enough to trigger warning bells, Chicotel says.

Michelle Diament is a frequent contributor to the AARP Bulletin.

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