Astor House residents allege mistreatment, adverse living conditions
A number of residents at the Astor House retirement community in Newberg, the epicenter of COVID-19 in Yamhill County where seven residents have died, described harrowing living conditions in multiple letters to the community's parent company last month. These purported conditions date back to well before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Letters obtained by this newspaper, dated as recently as June 4 and addressed to parent organization Holiday Retirement, alleged that residents hadn't received individual housekeeping service since March 18. One resident claimed they didn't receive fresh bedsheets or towels from March 18 through May 20 — more than two months.
Cleaning protocols outside of apartments, in the view of a handful of residents who signed on to one of the letters, are inadequate and put residents at risk.
"Cleaning the common area is a joke," one resident wrote. "A housekeeper walks the hall once a day with a squirt bottle … and sprays the front of each apartment door. The hall carpets have not been vacuumed since the new ones were installed approximately four weeks ago."
"Holiday Retirement has received letters from residents regarding the Astor House community during the COVID-19 pandemic," Alyssa Cerrito, communications manager for Holiday Retirement, said in a release. "While we failed to respond in a timely manner, we are currently engaging in conversations with our residents to welcome feedback and find solutions." The Winter Park, Florida-based company owns hundreds of retirement facilities in 43 states.
Multiple in-person events were scheduled in the days leading up to Astor House's first COVID-19 diagnosis, according to residents. Astor House hosted a "toga party" for its residents on March 15, a resident meeting on March 16 and a St. Patrick's Day party on March 17, residents say. The first known case of COVID-19 at Astor House was confirmed at the facility on March 18. Seven residents have succumbed to the virus since.
Residents have largely been confined to their apartments and some are worried about the attentiveness and protocol of management and staff. They claim that while staff members are constantly wearing masks, they've rarely seen management wearing them.
"We understand that the protocols put in place during the pandemic have been difficult," Cerrito said "These restrictions were issued out of an abundance of caution to protect residents and associates. While communal spaces were closed, including the dining room, meal service was adjusted to individual apartment delivery. In the event of active COVID-19 cases within the community, interaction between residents and associates is drastically reduced, limiting meal choices. Since our residents were unable to enjoy the snack bar, we also delivered snacks to apartments in between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner. Limited staff and resident interaction is also true regarding the housekeeping schedule. Reducing these efforts allows for additional staff to assist with meal delivery and increased cleaning and sanitation of the building."
The residents who penned the letters remained unconvinced.
"For some unknown reason there is a constant turnover of housekeepers and dining servers," a resident wrote. "Even before the COVID-19 situation, management and maintenance were serving meals and maintenance was helping with housekeeping in our apartments. Therefore, building maintenance was not being done."
The food served to residents is a point of serious concern among those who wrote letters to Holiday Retirement. While many expressed their gratitude for meals being delivered to apartments rather than risking a trip to the dining room, the consensus among those who penned letters was that meals were inadequate and unhealthy.
"As far back as a year ago, the food has gotten almost inedible," a resident said in their letter. "Portions have become smaller and smaller. The 5 p.m. meal is a cold sandwich and a bag of chips. Dry bread with no condiments. If it weren't for a lettuce salad almost every day, we would hardly see a green vegetable. Some days residents were forgotten and no meal was served to them, or the kitchen ran out of food."
"Food is repetitive, cold, and just plain awful most of the time," another resident added. "Having scrambled eggs for 100 some odd days, six days a week is inexcusable. Hot food is cold most of the time, which is not safe. Sandwiches every night shows lack of imagination. Animals eat better than we do. It seems that (management), corporate and the kitchen care more about saving money than serving quality, healthy food."
Unacceptable conditions date back to before the pandemic, residents say, but have been exacerbated by COVID-19 limitations and constant turnover of staff at the facility. One resident said that while no visitors are allowed in the facility and caregivers are required to be screened upon entering the building, there have been several occasions when they've witnessed no one manning the front desk.
Company officials say they are doing the best they can under the circumstances.
"One point of clarification, activities referenced in the letters happened before Astor House entered into restricted activity protocol on March 19," Cerrito said. "Shortly after, Oregon issued a stay-at-home order on March 23. We understand that during this restricted time, residents could not enjoy the same amenities that they had previously enjoyed. These precautions were put into place to protect both residents and associates. Astor House had an extended period of isolation due to active cases and we know that residents were frustrated."
Lack of leadership and communication from management is a key point of the residents' allegations. As of last week, they argue, they hadn't heard back from Holiday Retirement about the conditions at Astor House and they rarely receive updates regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the facility.
"Our new manager has been here several months and quite a few residents have not met her," one resident wrote. "An article and picture of Astor House was in the local newspaper before we residents were told there was (a seventh) death from the virus. Very upsetting to learn of the death in this way!"
Cerrito said the Newberg facility is starting to return to normal, but in a controlled manner.
"We are happy to report that the community is in Phase 2 of recovery," she said. "This means that our residents are beginning to participate in small group activities and enjoying limited seating in the dining room. Associates are being screened twice daily, including temperature checks. Limited visitation is permitted within the community with appropriate screening for entry and exit. All of these activities include proper wearing of personal protection equipment for associates while also adhering to applicable social distancing measures.
"We continue to navigate the pandemic and are learning every day. This is not an easy task; however, we remain committed to doing everything we can to keep our residents and associates safe."
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