Brammer: Smoke and Mirrors—An investor’s dream was my memory care nightmare
The room where Carmen Brammer's mom stayed in a residential care facility for the elderly. Photo courtesy of Carmen Brammer.

    I am the caregiver for my mom who has resided in a variety of institutional settings. It’s emotional to share this very personal, six-year long-term care journey we have been on.  Having to revisit these traumatic experiences triggers unhealed wounds. But it’s critical to bring visibility to another segment of long-term care that is focused on profit over care.

    I’m referring to residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFEs). This industry is driven to maximize profit at the cost of providing a quality life for their residents and below market wages for their workforce. COVID-19 exposed the urgent need to hold RCFEs accountable for the gift of caring for our elderly population. To quote Lailah Gifty Akita, we should “Love, care and treasure the elderly people in the society.”

    RCFEs are known for providing assisted living and memory care services. In 2020 the projected growth for this industry was $225 billion.

    These facilities are run by property managers on behalf of real estate investors. Care is at the bottom of the priority list. I learned this harsh reality when my mom was residing at the Atria Evergreen Valley memory care facility. Their image as a nurturing environment with resident health and well-being as their core competency proved to be false.

    Our nine-month nightmare at Atria Evergreen began in December 2020 and ended October 2021. The list of traumatic experiences is extensive and would take up more space than this piece allows. Therefore, I’ll share some of the more egregious ones.

    First, within a month of my mom moving in, she contracted COVID! This was shocking and scary for our family, especially when these facilities were on lockdown to prevent residents from being exposed to the virus.

    Second, I was not able to see inside the facility until April 2021. I was shocked and hurt when we went into the shared “room” she occupied. She had been placed in a space like leftover garbage. Her bed was squeezed against a wall with no windows. Her headboard was a few feet from the bathroom door. The paint throughout the room was chipped. On the bathroom door was a mysterious hole at eye level. It was all so depressing.

    Photo courtesy of Carmen Brammer.

    Third, due to one of the caregiver’s lack of knowledge on how to operate her hospital bed, mom suffered a fall. Due to the pandemic there were concerns about sending her to the ER, so the head of memory care said they would observe her for any injuries. I had to pray that she suffered no internal injuries since Atria has no onsite medical equipment to check their residents.

    Then while doing an assessment review I discovered they were only bathing my mom once a week! This level of uncleanliness is a disgusting and commonly acceptable practice in the RCFE world. There is no way an adult with incontinence issues sitting in a wheelchair all day should not be bathed on a daily basis. Not doing this lends itself to residents experiencing urinary tract infections or other ailments. When I insisted that workers bathe my mom seven days a week, the facility raised our monthly rate by $1,000.

    Another thing to know is the caregivers, as well as the person heading up Atria Evergreen’s memory care, are not licensed medical professionals. In fact, the head of memory care previously managed Atria’s activities. It does not make sense that residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia are being cared for by individuals with no medical background.

    When I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. We went to celebrate my mom’s birthday in June 2021. My daughter planned on surprising her with a manicure. My stomach turned when we looked under my mom’s nails. They were all packed with a mysterious, hard dark matter. When I tried to remove it, mom flinched in pain. I knew this gunk had to have been embedded for a while.

    Photo courtesy of Carmen Brammer.

    During this time I scheduled meetings with the administrative team to discuss my concerns. They blew me off until they finally made time in August 2021. It was then I found out my mom hadn’t received her COVID vaccine. This is now eight months after she had been at their facility and I was of the understanding that all residents had been inoculated.

    My mom could have contracted the virus again and died due to their negligence. I knew I had to move her out as soon as possible. Even though I sent emails to the executive director and director of nursing relaying the care issues, little was done to address them.

    In September 2021, I met with Regional Vice President Jason Walthour to let him know I would be moving my mom out due to all the problems we had encountered. After sharing the list of horrors my mom went through, Jason admitted Atria Evergreen had failed me and my mom.

    In a later email, he acknowledged my mom was placed in a suite designed for one person, not two residents. She should never have been put in the space. For over nine months we were taken advantage of and paid a high price for poor service and unacceptable accommodations.

    The average cost of memory care in Santa Clara County is about $6,500 per month. There is no financial assistance for this unless you have long-term care insurance. Atria is now taking senior care costs to another level with the facility they’re building in San Francisco. There, rooms with two beds and two baths can run up to $27,000 per month!

    It is time for change in this industry. The health and welfare of our vulnerable and fragile senior population must be a priority over profits. No other family should have to experience the nightmare my mom and I went through.

    Carmen Brammer is a political strategist and advocate. She is passionate about improving the lives of neglected communities by exposing and breaking down social inequities and entrenched barriers. Her role as caregiver for her mom has led her to bringing visibility to long-term care issues and areas for change within this industry.

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