The owner of a Park Slope old-folks-home who is trying to shutter the place and sell the building for millions was motivated purely by greed, not by financial hardship as his employee previously claimed, a judge ruled in a scathing decision challenging a state-approved closure plan.
The Nov. 21 ruling by Kings County Supreme Court Judge Wayne Saitta extended a court order barring Prospect Park Residence owner Haysha Deitsch from evicting the eight elderly patients who remain in the assisted-living facility. Saitta ripped management for letting the license lapse at the building that occupies prime real estate on Grand Army Plaza, saying that the attempted closure came not because of any hardship, as stated by its director, but simply to flip the building to a luxury residential developer.
“The operator seeks to voluntarily surrender its certificate, not because of any financial difficulty in operating the facility, but in order to sell the building to an entity that will convert the building to unregulated housing,” Saitta wrote.
It is not the first time Saitta has prevented the eviction, which was originally supposed to take place at the end of June, but in the past Saitta had simply pushed back the timetable to allow for further hearings. In his recent ruling, though, he blasted the Department-of-Health-approved closure plan for being vague and lacking deadlines and contingency plans.
“The closure plan approved by DOH does not give a timetable or list the procedures the operator would take to relocate residents,” he wrote. “Neither the Prospect Park defendants or DOH had considered the possibility that defendant would have to commence special proceedings in order to close the facility, much less consider who would operate the facility while special proceedings were ongoing.”
Prospect Park Residence filed its initial closure plan in late September, 2013, and the Department of Health approved it in late February, 2014, according to a spokeswoman. The facility continued to accept new residents as late as December, despite the pending closure. In January, Deitsch agreed to sell the building for $76.5 million as soon as the closure plan was approved and the facility’s fourth-floor dementia unit had been vacated.
Saitta criticized Deitsch and the Department of Health for failing to consider the impact a move would have on the seniors, who are dealing with a lot as it is.
“The plaintiffs still in residence are in their 90s, two are Holocaust survivors, several suffer from dementia, and all have severe infirmities. Assessing their individual needs in order to find an appropriate placement is not a mere technicality,” he wrote. “In addition to these deficiencies on the face of the plan, there has not been any evidence produced that the operator has assessed the plaintiffs’ individual needs and preferences or has found facilities that are appropriate given the plaintiffs’ individual needs and preferences.”
Since the first order staving off eviction in June, the families of the remaining residents have complained that Deitsch is attempting to drive them out by cutting staff, serving subpar meals, and dimming hallway lights. One tenant who showed up to a hearing on Nov. 24 said she simply wants to be able to remain in her home and eat nutritious food.
“I don’t know how that child got so bitter and mean,” said AnneMarie Mogil, referring to Deitsch. “I’m 92 years old, and I deserve peace and quiet.”
In a statement, the press-shy Deitsch sought to refute claims that he has cut services to his tenants.
“In the nine months since the closure plan was approved by the state health department, Prospect Park Residence management and staff have taken extraordinary steps to ensure continuity of care is maintained and that residents continue to reside in a safe and secure environment,” he said. “Claims to the contrary are without merit.”
Saitta’s ruling on the closure plan will likely have repercussions for Deitsch beyond two pending tenant lawsuits. An agreement with an investment firm in January to sell the 1Prospect Park West building for $76 million was contingent on Deitsch securing a closure plan and giving the boot to his tenants. As the closure dragged, the buyers sued Deitsch, too, accusing him of failing to evict his elderly tenants fast enough, as this paper first reported. Deitsch has argued that he lived up to his side of the bargain and accused the buyers of failing to anticipate litigation. But his key defense, the state-sanctioned closure plan, now appears to be in jeopardy.