Clarification: The Bronx Times attributed allegations of violence by W Group staff toward residents, when the violence is believed to be occurring between seniors living at the facility.
The senior community at the Bronxwood Assisted Living, known internally as the Bronxwood Babes, has had a tough couple of years grappling with the loss of roughly 30 of their fellow seniors to the COVID-19 virus.
Around the time of the start of the pandemic in early 2020, ownership of the facility was transferred to the W Group, the nation’s largest operator of adult homes in the U.S. with 20 homes in their portfolio, including three in the Bronx.
But the relationship between the 250 seniors at Bronxwood’s East Gun Hill Road location and the W Group has increasingly grown tenuous since then, with some seniors from the facility alleging that ownership has mishandled funds from the state Department of Health (DOH) that provides them allowances for clothing and food.
On top of a laundry list of complaints according to Deborah Berger, interim president of the Bronxwood Resident Council, is a recent rise in rent and boarding, and lack of communication between W Group and Bronxwood Assisted Living’s administration and management.
“You know this is an elderly community and they think that no one’s gonna say anything about (what happens to us),” said Berger. “There’s a feeling that because we’re old that we’re stupid, and that if we had money, obviously we wouldn’t be here. … They are taking advantage of us.”
The W Group received $64,000 in funding from the DOH’s EQUAL Grant to be distributed to Bronxwood Assisted Living program on Nov. 1, 2022.
The grant stipulates that funds are distributed evenly, with one-half purposed for providing clothing allowances and resident events and services to eligible residents to better meet their needs. The other half of the funding is for capital improvement projects to fix aging or deteriorating infrastructure or other enhancements to the facility’s physical space.
In New York, assisted living program operators are responsible for providing or arranging for resident services that must include room, board, housekeeping, supervision, personal care, case management and home health services.
In September, admins from W Group and seniors representing Bronxwood met to discuss what to do with the senior’s 50% of the funds, with the most urgent and explicit request for $120 Visa gift cards.
Sherletta McCaskill, a senior housing outreach specialist with non-profit Coalition of Institutionalized Aged and Disabled, said that for more than a month W Group administrators denied receiving their check from the state and claimed the funding was sent to the previous owners of the assisted living facility.
But a late-December inquiry to the DOH through state Sen. Jamaal Bailey’s office — obtained by the Bronx Times — shows receipt of the invoice of the DOH check that was sent to Bronxwood and the W Group in November.
On Dec. 14, 2022, still under the guise that W Group had not received DOH funds, Bronxwood members asked the administration to advance eligible residents $100 of their $120 gift cards because they would be reimbursed once they got the check from DOH — so residents could prepare for the upcoming Christmas and Hanukkah holidays.
When the $120 gift cards finally arrived on Jan. 3, Bronxwood seniors were dismayed that W Group provided 59 residents with American Express cards, prompting Bronxwood seniors to remind administrators that Amex cards were not accepted at the nearby Cherry Valley grocery story.
In short, Berger said that they were told to “take it or leave it.”
“We told them repeatedly that we can’t use the Amex cards because the grocery market doesn’t accept it,” said Berger. “This is just like a big disappointing power play and disrespectful and nasty and trying to divide and conquer kind of thing.”
McCaskill, who works as a training director with assisted living homes in NYC, says that similar obstacles toward aid are happening in a large chunk of the city’s adult home facilities, which house roughly 41,000 of the city’s aging seniors.
“There’s no way they didn’t have that money. We saw a receipt, we saw,” said McCaskill. “They need to keep their word. They keep lying. … This is (a) vulnerable community, there’s a lot of isolation and lack of support or advocacy, that it can be easy for groups to take advantage of them.”
The Bronx Times has reached out to the W Group for comment and is awaiting response.
DOH informed the Bronx Times that they are looking into the complaints made against the W Group, but did not provide a timeline or scope of that review.
“Ensuring all assisted living residents receive proper care is a priority of the New York State Department of Health,” said Jeffrey Hammond, a DOH spokesperson. “The department is reviewing a complaint pertaining to Bronxwood’s EQUAL grant application. As this is an ongoing review, we cannot comment further at this time.”
Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes