Lawsuit: Assisted living evictions harmed seniors

Joy Beth Fissette comforts her mother Mary Anne Carroll at Brickmont of Acworth, an Assisted Living and Alzheimer's Care facility, on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Tranquil Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care facility in Acworth abruptly announced it was closing its doors, giving residents and their families less than 72 hours to make other arrangements for the 27 residents, including some who require memory care.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Joy Beth Fissette comforts her mother Mary Anne Carroll at Brickmont of Acworth, an Assisted Living and Alzheimer's Care facility, on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Tranquil Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care facility in Acworth abruptly announced it was closing its doors, giving residents and their families less than 72 hours to make other arrangements for the 27 residents, including some who require memory care.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The saga of the Cherokee County assisted living facility that abruptly evicted two dozen vulnerable seniors in July took what seemed like an inevitable turn on Friday as families of former residents sued the operators of the home.

The suit alleges economic and emotional harm caused by the evictions, including a wrongful death allegation. One former resident with dementia declined so rapidly after he was evicted from Tranquil Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care that he died last month.

“I feel like (my brother) would still be here if we had had some time to move him to a different place,” said Tim Fisher. He said his brother, Jon, who was 75 and had dementia, had trouble adapting to the rapid change. His family moved him into a different home two days after the eviction notice was given, but less than a week later he was in the hospital and he died Sept. 17.

Families were given 72 hours to find new senior care homes for their loved ones after the operators at Tranquil Gardens notified them on July 13 that the facility was in financial trouble and that in three days the electricity would be cut off and the facility closed.

The announcement set off a chaotic, emotional scramble that disoriented residents, many of whom had dementia, and stressed families as they had to find a new facility for their loved ones and move them. Some families and staff were in tears, records show. Some residents had to leave behind possessions, including furniture, because of the hard deadline.

The lawsuit names Janice Stewart, the matriarch of the family-owned facility, and her son, Brian Stewart, who oversaw the home’s operations.

The suit also names the holding and management companies, Five Dreams Holdings, LLC and Five Dreams Management, LLC, through which the family owned and operated the senior care business located in Acworth. It had opened its doors in late 2018 but struggled almost from the start. The facility’s owner had filed for bankruptcy within months of opening its doors, but the Stewarts and staff kept the business’s financial problems from residents until the very end, records show.

The Stewarts did not immediately respond to texts and phone calls seeking comment. In a statement in July, the family said a domino effect of factors led to the rapid and heartbreaking demise of the assisted living facility.

Brian Stewart, who had previously been in the tree service business, spoke briefly to the AJC in July.

“This whole thing was a bad business,” he said. “It’s unfortunate it’s an assisted living. We couldn’t make it work.”

Fisher and two other families with loved ones who had been evicted from the home filed the lawsuit in Cherokee County Superior Court. It may be their best shot at some measure of accountability for what happened.

State regulators with the Department of Community Health investigated and cited the home for noncompliance after the evictions, but with the facility closed it’s unclear how far those measures can go or if fines would be effective. The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office opened an investigation in July, but nothing has come of it yet.

“I just want them to feel what we’ve gone through,” said Joy Beth Fissette, whose mother and stepfather lived in the home’s memory care unit. The condition of both has declined significantly since they were forced to move to a different facility, Fissette said.

“My mom can’t even talk anymore,” she said.

Caption
July 21, 2021 Acworth - Interior of empty Tranquil Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care facility in Acworth on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Tranquil Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care facility in Acworth abruptly announced it was closing its doors, giving residents and their families less than 72 hours to make other arrangements for the 27 residents, including some who require memory care. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

July 21, 2021 Acworth - Interior of empty Tranquil Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care facility in Acworth on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Tranquil Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care facility in Acworth abruptly announced it was closing its doors, giving residents and their families less than 72 hours to make other arrangements for the 27 residents, including some who require memory care. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
July 21, 2021 Acworth - Interior of empty Tranquil Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care facility in Acworth on Wednesday, July 21, 2021. Tranquil Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care facility in Acworth abruptly announced it was closing its doors, giving residents and their families less than 72 hours to make other arrangements for the 27 residents, including some who require memory care. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The lawsuit alleges breach of contract, negligence and unlawful eviction against the Stewarts and their business. It also alleges the facility failed its contractual obligations to provide proper notice.

Residents had signed contracts with the home that required 30 days’ written notice before the facility could ask them to leave.

The home also was supposed to give residents two months’ notice before raising rent or charges for normal services. But some residents were told that rents were being increased. And residents paid rent for the entire month of July when they were given verbal notice on July 13 to be out in three days.

After announcing the evictions, critical services at the home suffered significantly in the final days. Staff was not paid, and the home failed to provide daily care, oversight, food, and medicine as required by their contractual agreements and state rules, the lawsuit alleges.

“Whether the evictions were caused by mismanagement or malfeasance, we don’t know,” said the plaintiffs’ attorney Edmund Novotny. “We do expect the discovery process of the litigation will tell the true story.”

About the Author

ajc.com

Editors' Picks