Tarentum personal care home closes with little warning
By Tom Yerace
Published: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014, 12:41 a.m.
Residents of a Tarentum personal care home nearly found themselves out in the cold today.
That's because on Thursday the company that owns the Allegheny Valley Residence at 416 E. Seventh Ave. abruptly told its manager that the facility had to be closed by the weekend and all residents moved out by today.
The closing of the 64-bed home by its owner, New Hope Personal Care Homes Inc. based in Scranton, was expected, according to its manager, Michelle Isanhart, but the sudden timetable was not.
Initially, they were told it would close within days, and immediately after, that was changed to 30 days.
“We gave the state a notice two weeks ago, and we thought we had 30 days,” said Isanhart, who has managed the 64-bed residence for 15 years.
The abrupt closing displaced 47 residents, according to the manager.
Isanhart said the call from New Hope's home office came Thursday, informing her the closing had to happen now.
She said that the closing was not ordered by the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, which regulates personal care homes.
Although the home had some violations over the past few years, it was operating on a full license issued by the department in August and is valid for a year.
“This had nothing to do with me or the staff,” Isanhart said. “There's no issues like that whatsoever.”
She said it was a decision by New Hope.
“They said for financial reasons, this is something we have to implement,” she said. “Believe me, we are all a little shocked.”
Finding residents living arrangements
The result was a feverish effort by Isanhart and her staff to get residents, most of whom are elderly with health problems, packed up and moved into other personal care homes.
About 5 p.m., a relieved Isanhart said, “We're pretty much wrapped up — everybody has a place to go.”
Mona Lohle, who owns Partners In Placement, an agency that helps place people in personal care and nursing homes, assisted Isanhart and co-manager Bridget Benton.
“I've been in situations like this but I have never, ever seen or experienced someone who did not hold out a 30-day notice, which is a state regulation,” Lohle said.
Attempts to obtain comments from New Hope officials were fruitless as phone calls to New Hope's home office went unanswered. Ronald A. Halko, president of New Hope, apparently does not have a listed telephone number.
According to Isanhart, the residents, who paid $1,084 per month to live at Allegheny Valley Residence, were relocated to a number of personal care homes in the area.
They include Applewood in Brackenridge, the East Deer Personal Care Home and West Haven in Washington Township, as well as The Palms in McKeesport, which sent a mini-bus to transport its new residents.
“These people are basically low income, and to find the type of home that can take them is very difficult,” said Lohle, who said in addition to being financially feasible, the homes had to be reputable. “We weren't going to put them into just any home.”
Lohle said the rate that the Allegheny Valley Residence was charging basically represented a resident's Social Security payment and a personal care home supplement paid by Allegheny County.
She said one of the reasons she was happy to help Isanhart and her staff place residents was because they always tried to accommodate people she brought to them who also were difficult to place.
The situation made the scene at Allegheny Valley Residence seem almost chaotic as the 17-member staff was busy taking care of residents' needs such as food and medication, while helping them gather their belongings, with many of them packed into large black plastic trash can liners.
All the while the staff tried to comfort and reassure the residents, many of them visibly upset, while trying to hold their own emotions in check, and usually failing.
“I'm upset right now just due to the fact that we have to get out in a hurry,” said Francis “Frank” Conocchia, 59, a resident who previously lived in Frazer.Clad in a Steelers jacket, Verne Eiben, 73, sat in a wheelchair near the first-floor TV lounge and bitterly reflected on what was happening.
“All of a sudden, they said, ‘Everybody's got to go,' ” he said. “Isn't that nice? It's a hell of a thing.”
Eiben said he liked living at Allegheny Valley Residence.
“It's a shame they did this,” he said.
“It's got to be hard on these guys, it has to be — and for us because we got attached to these residents,“ said Pam Mosser of Harrison, an aide who worked at the home for 15 years.
“The residents, we're going to miss them, they are like our family,” said Amber Petruny, a nurse's aide at the home for six years.
Erin Wilczek of New Kensington was at the home Thursday helping her father, Thomas Viegas, 63, who has epilepsy, prepare for the move.
“You get people like my dad who has a mental disability, this is just a shock,” she said. “It's something that could put my dad back in the hospital.”Viegas expressed how he felt about the situation by making a comparison.
“It's like a piece of paper being thrown out a car window, like a piece of trash,” Viegas said. “It's like treating the human body like a piece of trash.”
Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or email@example.com.
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