DITMAS PARK -When the front door of the run-down building that had been home to Park Manor Home for Adults since at least 1983 was suddenly padlocked last April, it took the neighborhood by surprise. Residents of the home, many with mental health disabilities — many of them familiar neighborhood characters — vanished without a trace. Nobody picked up the phone when concerned neighbors called. And the New York State Department of Health would only reveal that “a number of violations” had produced “an emergency order” closing the place.
In fact, according to documents obtained by Bklyner under the Freedom of Information Law, the unassuming three-story building was shuttered only after its residents endured decades of what can be described as Dickensian conditions.
Caretakers ignored doctors orders on dietary restrictions, failing to serve appropriate food in sufficient quantities, according to State inspection reports. The bathrooms were filthy and the toilets were broken. Bedbugs flourished.
The residents went to sleep each night in 25 rooms, none of which met the minimum state standards, with three people sharing rooms as small as 135 square feet, their beds less than 2 feet apart. The facility was routinely overcrowded. Lights were missing, drawers were broken, and doorknobs were missing. Elevators seemed to hardly ever work, inspectors noted over and over.
It seems little had changed for more than a decade following the New York Times investigation of the adult home system that named the facility as an example. More than a decade after it was the site of a notorious murder, where a resident killed his roommate.
When the state regulators finally moved to close Park Manor, it took them another six years and an emergency order from the commissioner to finally do that. Six years, during which some of the most vulnerable of our neighbors lived in sometimes dangerous squalor in an unlicensed facility.
The final straw came on March 9 of 2017, when a state inspector watched staff fail to make sure residents received prescribed medications. This prompted the issuance of an emergency order to shut down the establishment and immediate removal of residents, proving it was, after all, possible to find alternative homes for the 42 residents still at the home last spring.
The saga of the Park Manor, revealed in 291 pages of documents, is at its heart a story of the failure of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration to take care of some of the state’s most vulnerable people. It is not a new story: Indeed, the grim conditions at state adult homes have been the subject of at least three major official reports and the 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times expose.
The new documents show in horrifying detail the consequences of that systematic neglect on the elderly, who in the case of residents at Park Manor, were mostly between the ages of 50 and 70, almost all were diagnosed with mental health issues, according to reports, all needed help with basic care and medications, and none could live unassisted.
Lastly, as the New York State Department of Health was working to shut down Park Manor Home for Adults in 2011, it issued its owners a permit to operate another 30-bed adult home in Sullivan County. When asked for comment, none was provided by the NYS Department of Health.
A GRIM HISTORY
Disabled adults who are unable to live on their own and whose families are unable to care for them often fall victim to neglect for the simple reason that nobody is watching. But New York State has a specific, sad history, which began with the decision in the late 1960s to “de-institutionalize” the mentally ill – moving them out of often-abusive asylums, but without a clear plan for helping them live in communities.
The first state investigation of its broken system came in 1977, when Charles Hynes – then a special state prosecutor, and later the Brooklyn District Attorney – issued a scathing report into their failings. The adult homes, he found, had become “de facto mental institutions”. There have been other scathing reports – about once a decade.
In 2002, the New York Times confirmed that the new adult homes that sprang up to fill the need had indeed devolved “into places of misery and neglect, just like the psychiatric institutions before them”.
The Park Manor Home for Adults had been in operation since at least January of 1983, according to state documents. Simon and Sarah Halpert operated the facility at the building they own at 570 Coney Island Avenue, just south of Beverley Road. Soon after opening, it drew attention as among the worst in a bad industry. (We emailed and called available numbers for Halperts for comment, but none of our messages were returned.)
“Outdoor patio furniture in the backyard was ripped, rusted and in very poor condition… Floors and walls in the hallways and elevator were very dirty with built-up dirt,” a 1990 state report on conditions at adult homes serving residents with mental illness related, describing Park Manor already as among the worst in the 1980s. “Wall and floor tiles were mismatched and ungrouted in many places and contained an accumulation of mold and mildew… In the bathroom, medicine chests were rusted, and shower curtains were ripped and mildewed… The majority of residents were poorly groomed and dressed in dirty, ill-fitting, seasonally inappropriate clothing,” the report found.
Park Manor drew public attention again in 2002, when it featured prominently in the New York Times expose on adult homes. In 2000, a resident at Park Manor was murdered by his roommate, Erik Chapman, who had been roaming the halls with a knife for four years before he committed the crime.
Park Slope neighbor Cliff Levy, the author of the Pulitzer-winning Times expose, reported that a hospital psychiatrist had documented that Chapman “admits to possibly wanting to hurt men.”
Levy’s story continues:
“Asked on a form whether Mr. Chapman had homicidal tendencies, another psychiatrist wrote a question mark and then, ”Suggested hurting his perceived persecutors.” Among his delusions: he believed his Park Manor roommates were coughing up blood on him.
“After two months at the hospital, he was discharged back to Park Manor. Soon after, inspectors cited the home’s operators for doing almost nothing to examine his psychiatric history or address his needs, according to a June 1999 state report. But the inspectors never followed up.
“That was not out of the ordinary. As with other homes, inspection reports portrayed Park Manor as in disarray, to no avail. At one point, they noted, a college student was volunteering as the home’s case manager for all 60 or so residents.”
Levy reported that two years after the killing, neither state nor city authorities had made any effort to examine Park Manor’s role. None of the reports Bklyner reviewed confirm otherwise.
NEW RED FLAGS
There is no indication that the dismal conditions at Park Manor Home for Adults improved in the years since 2000, despite the publicity. Documents show that seven NYS Department of Health inspections between January 2008 and November 2010 produced a $40,000 fine for violations. They found that the facility was consistently over capacity and demanded that the operators build 22 new rooms for residents, as they had previously agreed upon, and reduce the number of residents by ten. Operators pushed back that it had been hard to secure financing, according to the documents.
An inspection report of the facility from September of 2011 notes that medications were not dispensed properly, that “meals were not adequate in amount and content to meet their [residents] daily dietary needs”, and that there was no record of the employees serving food ever having received training. One employee, who had direct contact with residents, could not communicate in English, preventing them from understanding residents’ requests.
Record keeping was not up to standards either, according to reports, even though the facility had been operating for almost 30 years. Residents names misspelled, and medical conditions not noted. Some residents were receiving physical therapy, though there were no records indicating why they needed it or what the services were.
The building was barely maintained. Blinds were torn or missing in resident’s rooms. Rooms were missing lamps, chests of drawers were broken, inspectors noted a bedroom was missing a doorknob, and the fact hallways were used for storage.
Park Manor did not substantially comply in correcting the issues, inspectors note, except for fixing some blinds, and in 2012, the NYS Department of Health revoked Park Manor Home for Adults operating certificate over many of the same issues it had documented in inspection reports over the years.
However, it would take another five years and an emergency order from the Commissioner of Health to finally close this facility.
FIVE MORE YEARS
As disturbing as each detail of Park Manor’s operation is, it is more disturbing how long it was allowed to continue.
The NYS Department of Health moved towards revoking Park Manor’s certificate of operation in May of 2011, but it took a year to finally revoke it in June of 2012. Halperts challenged that revocation in court. Their challenge was denied in October of 2012. They appealed and lost the appeal in June of 2013.
While the case was making its way through appeals, Hurricane Sandy hit in October of 2012. While it did not affect Park Manor itself, it did delay its closure. Simon Halpert wrote to the Department of Health saying that they could find no beds, except for one, to transfer their residents to, as so many facilities had been affected by the storm and were not taking any new residents.
The Department of Health waited until the May of 2014 to enforce the closure, eventually threatening a $100,000 fine if Park Manor did not comply with its orders by February of 2015.
And yet, the facility was still operating, without a license, on March 9, 2017, when state inspectors visited it again.
The next day, March 10, 2017, the Commissioner of Health issued an Emergency Order closing Park Manor, noting that “the facility was in violation of numerous adult home regulations, including regulations relating to its continuing and significant failure to meet resident room size requirements to avoid overcrowding, its failure to ensure that the Facility, including resident rooms, were kept clean and in good repair, and most critically, its failure to implement an appropriate system of medication management and supervision of residents”.
The March 10 order focused in particular on the dispensation of the residents’ medications: The inspection that preceded it found that “the Facility nighttime medication technician pre-poured morning medications, including prescribed controlled substances, for the Facility’s residents into unlabeled plastic cups, which she left unattended on dining room tables at places where she expected residents to sit.”
After the meal, “numerous unlabeled plastic cups remained on the dining room tables with medications contained therein”. No trained staff was present at any time during breakfast to assist with taking the medications or make a record of it.
The Park Manor Home for Adults was closed permanently on March 31, 2017.
The Halperts have leased the property at 570 Coney Island Avenue to an anonymous LLC – The Coney Group LLC, which plans to operate a homeless shelter at the location. The property is also listed as part of the commercial portfolio of Bayrock Capital. Initial plans to convert the building were disapproved in June the NYC Department of Buildings.
Sarah Halpert is listed as the operator of a 30-bed adult home in Suffolk County, a building Simon and Sarah Halpert have owned since 2011.
Here are the documents we obtained through FOIL: