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LETTER: Times Needs to Report on Eldercare With Greater Care

'The paper has chosen ... to publish a bland, shallow, and generally misleading piece about people getting older and needing housing.'

Editor's Note: The author also submitted this letter to the Los Angeles Times.

Editor,

Last week I spent a considerable amount of time speaking with Times editorial writer Carla Hall about all facets of Mr. Selan’s pending application for the right to build a warehouse-sized assisted living facility in the middle of our single family residential neighborhood.  I also sent her a substantial amount of written information about this case in particular and the important issue of eldercare facilities in general.   Imagine, then, my disappointment over the sloppy, superficial and inaccurate March 24, 2013 editorial entitled “Discord Over Elder Care Project in Sherwood Forest.”   If this is the best that the Times can do with an important, complex issue, then I might as well cancel my 60-year-old subscription right now. 

For starters, the article misquotes opponents as saying that there are “nine big senior facilities within several miles of this project.”  The documented truth, as I told your reporter, is that there are over 73 assisted living facilities with a total of 1577 beds and nearly 200 current vacancies within five miles of the proposed site.

Consider also the editorial’s statement that “Eldercare facilities should be spread through [sic] neighborhoods across the city. . .[the elderly] shouldn’t be relegated to commercial or industrial neighborhoods or to poorer, less politically connected parts of town,”  While this sounds terrific, it is clear that the Times failed to check where the bulk of assisted living facilities are currently located. 

The State Department of Social Services website updates weekly its list of licensed Residential Care for the Elderly facilities (RCFEs).  Communities recently protesting the addition of more facilities include Northridge - 62 existing facilities with a total of 873 beds, Tarzana - 20 facilities with a total of 442 beds, and Woodland Hills - 44 facilities and 1327 beds.  Compare these figures with those for, say, Brentwood – 3 facilities (including the VA) with a total of 96 beds, Pacific Palisades – 2 facilities with a total of 66 beds, and Westwood – 1 facility with a total of 6 beds.  If the goal is to spread assisted living facilities throughout the city, then I urge the Times to recommend that instead of Northridge, Mr. Selan’s proposed RCFE be located in San Marino, Holmby Hills, Bell Air or Malibu, all of which currently have none. 

Next, let’s look at the comment that  “the elderly population in Los Angeles is growing dramatically.”  Where are the facts or statistics to back this up?  The Wall Street Journal has reported a net population decrease for California of 3.4 million people in the last 20 years.  How many of these were retirement-aged?  And it’s  certainly not news that people are getting older.  The real questions are what will aging “baby boomers” want and need and how can the City best plan for an elderly population “bulge” that will last, at most, 30 years. 

Are people in Los Angeles getting older?  Yes, many are, but the median age for Los Angelenos remains somewhere in the mid-30’s.   Do aging  “baby boomers” need costly “Assisted Living” facilities?  Probably not.

First, as Medicare and Medicaid continue to cut funding, prices at large RCFEs, which already exceed several thousand dollars per month, will necessarily escalate in order for these commercial ventures to stay in business.  In reality, they may already be fiscally doomed.  The very fact of the State’s enactment of Senate Bill 897, known as the Residential Care Facility For the Elderly Residents Foreclosure Protection Act, speaks volumes.

Next, it is beyond dispute that everyone would prefer to live out their “golden years” with dignity and independence in his or her own or a family member’s home as opposed to being relegated to 300 or less square feet in what is essentially a warehouse for the elderly.  It is important to note that an RCFE does not provide skilled nursing or other specialized medical services.  By definition, an RCFE cannot house people unable to take care of all of their daily needs.  Rather, RCFEs cater to people perfectly capable of living on their own if given a minor to moderate amount of assistance.  Accordingly, current informed thought is directed towards outpatient, in-home programs allowing people to “age in place.”  Such plans deserve your greater attention and support.  Not only are they better overall for the aging, but they also are far less expensive, both for individuals and for taxpayers, than RCFEs.

The majority of Sherwood Forest community members are over 60, and many of us have resided here for multiple decades.  Others have chosen to live in this particular rural-agricultural single-family community specifically because of its RA-1 zoning.  A large percentage of our residents care for elderly relatives on their property; families living adjacent to the proposed eldercare site are caring – at home - for family members aged 87, 85 and 83.  

Mr. Selan has based his application in the pending case on the written contention that “Many residents of the surrounding community have expressed the desire to remain the community after they are in the state of life when they are no longer able to care for themselves or live in their homes alone.”  Unfortunately, he failed to actually speak to any members of the community before making this allegation. Once informed of Mr. Selan’s plan, the opposition of the entire community, young and old, has been overwhelming.   Over 850 residents signed a petition opposing the proposal and nearly 200 have written individual, thoughtful and well-reasoned letters of protest to the city.  Hundreds have turned out at community meetings and at the public hearing on the matter on March 5, all of which Mr. Selan has not had the courage to attend.

The ugly truth is, Mr. Selan is unconcerned with the actual needs of seniors and the community.  Unable to sell his property two years ago at the exorbitant amount asked, and after vigorously enforcing the community’s zoning restrictions for his own benefit for over 30 years, he is now attempting to circumvent zoning restrictions for his own, personal financial benefit at the expense of the community.   There is nothing to be admired in his actions.

This case provides a perfect opportunity for the Times to explore in an insightful and meaningful way issues of great import to the future of Los Angeles.  The paper has chosen instead to publish a bland, shallow, and generally misleading piece about people getting older and needing housing.  These are indeed “our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and spouses.”   I encourage the Times to dig deeper into the issues and exhort our city leaders to focus on developing quality wellness and age in place programs, instead of supporting land development speculators interested in nothing more than their own, personal, financial gain.

Irene Boyd
Sherwood Forest

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