Staff members began calling residents to break the shocking news Tuesday afternoon. That set off a mad scramble as families struggled to find new care facilities for their elderly relatives.
Elizabeth Diskin, an 86-year-old resident, said the owners raised her rent $500 this month and she paid it last week. Now she’s forced to pay moving expenses and costs to move into a new assisted living facility.
“He didn’t have the guts to tell the people,” Diskin said of Stewart. “He told one of the workers to inform us that we had to be out by Friday.”
Moving trucks lined the parking lot and weary family members could be seen loading TVs, bedroom dressers and other furniture onto the cargo beds.
Larry Robertson spent the morning carrying his 90-year-old aunt’s belongings out. She suffers from severe dementia and Robertson worried that the abrupt displacement would cause her to deteriorate.
“She’s gotten used to the routine here and now she’s going into a new place, which I feel quite certain is going to put her on a downward spiral,” he said. “I think it’s going to be taking some months off her life.”
Many of the 28 staff members lingered outside in the parking lot Friday morning as the deadline approached for the residents to leave. Several said they hadn’t been paid in three weeks. and didn’t expect to be paid for their efforts this week. Despite that, many continued showing up to help the displaced residents.
But Stewart had Cherokee County sheriff’s deputies kick most of the staff members out of the building Thursday, according to Roach.
“I’ve been in healthcare for 27 years. I’ve never experienced anything like this,” she said. “He has no answers for us.”
Owners were not available for comment Friday. Brian Stewart’s mother, Janice, the other co-owner of the property, on Thursday released a statement to Channel 2 Action news that read in part: “Tranquil Gardens was truly a product of passion and the Stewart families first and foremost concern has always been the care for the elderly. Unfortunately, we have been faced with several unforeseen challenges that in the end proved to be catastrophic. A yearlong shut down due to COVID was something that we were unable to recover from as a new business.”
The Department of Community Health indicates the home has 78 licensed beds. However, a June report from DCH on COVID-19 showed the home had only 33 residents, an indicator that it was less than half full.
A recent report revealed that Atlanta’s senior housing and assisted living facilities have been among the nation’s hardest hit by the pandemic. The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care (NIC) reported earlier this month that among the 31 largest markets, assisted living and memory care facilities like Tranquil Gardens rank 20th in occupancy rate at 73.1%. They still lag the national average by more than 2 percentage points.
Echols sat outside the facility late Friday morning saying final goodbyes to departing residents and fellow staff members. She said she’s been working with the Georgia Department of Community Health and the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office to investigate exactly what happened.
“I never imagined that you could just put seniors out on the street like this,” she said. “This is very illegal. These people just gave you all their rent money on July 1.”
Under state law, the Department of Community Health requires a minimum of 60 days’ written notice to the department and all residents of any impending bankruptcy or eviction that could force residents to relocate from a facility. Department officials said Friday they had not received a notice from Tranquil Gardens and that the department is investigating.
Two investigators from DCH, which oversees conditions at the state’s assisted care facilities, were on the premises at Tranquil Gardens on Friday. The state investigators declined to comment when approached by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“You’re not just closing down your grocery store,” said Nikki Windsor, Tranquil Gardens’ former executive director. “These are people’s lives in your hands. People that don’t have many years left.”
It wouldn’t be the first time in the past year that Georgia officials have investigated Tranquil Gardens. Records show the Department of Community Health cited the facility in February for failing to provide a resident their prescribed medications for Parkinson’s and diabetes.
In December, the assisted living facility was cited for failing to treat a memory care patient with kindness and respect, according to a complaint. Video from that investigation showed a staff worker handling the confused patient in a rough manner while removing them from a room.
Five Dreams Management LLC, the Acworth company that owns Tranquil Gardens, received a $118,500 Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal government last year.
Staff writer Brad Schrade contributed to this report