Former resident adds to chorus of Astor House detractors
In February, the Astor House Retirement Community in Newberg reportedly told family members not to visit residents in-person due to concerns surrounding COVID-19. In March, the facility began delivering meals to residents' rooms, which prompted complaints from some residents about the quality and repetitive nature of the meals as well as worries about not being able to do laundry, the lack of clean bedsheets and towels and a general lack of proper care from the facility's staff. This all occurred after seven residents had died of COVID-19 and the retirement community became the epicenter of the virus in Yamhill County.
A litany of concerns was outlined in letters written by multiple residents to Astor House's parent company, Holiday Retirement, and Pamplin Media Group reported on the letters in July. Now, a former resident's family is speaking out about his father's experience at the Newberg retirement facility.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity due to fears of retaliation from Astor House or its parent company, the son of a former resident explained how his father was delivered inadequate, unhealthy meals; how social isolation and the death of friends impacted his mental health; how he contracted COVID-19 and was hospitalized; and how Astor House increased his rent from around $2,500 to more than $3,300 and billed him in full although he did not live there while undergoing treatment for the virus.
"In late March, I knew my dad wasn't feeling well because he sounded sick on the phone, but he claimed he didn't have any of the COVID symptoms," the son said. "I asked Astor House if they would help him, but they said all they could do is call the fire department and if my dad left the property, he couldn't come back to his residence. My dad was worried about that and didn't want help, and he went so far as to talk the fire department out of taking him away from there initially. That night, he went severely downhill.
"Astor House doesn't have a night staff to monitor its residents in case of a medical emergency, so we waited it out and dispatched the fire department again the next morning. They found my dad on the floor, crawling around like an animal. When he got to the hospital, they discovered he had a brain bleed and tested positive for COVID. I only found out later that the brain bleed he suffered is actually a symptom of the virus in some elderly people."
After being evaluated in Newberg, the father was transferred to Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center where his son says he spent more than three weeks in the intensive care unit. Despite being 83 years old with "every pre-existing condition you could think of," his son said, the father recovered, and his son moved him into an assisted living facility.
But what happened during his father's recovery shocked and angered his son, whose primary concern was whether his father would survive a disease that has claimed more than 180,000 lives nationwide. So it surprised the son when Astor House called with a reminder that his father was past due on his rent at an apartment he wasn't living in or allowed to return to due to COVID-19 precautions.
"What they should have opened the conversation with was, 'How's your dad?'," the son said. "Instead, they asked, 'Where's the rent?' And I didn't feel that we owed them anything because they weren't providing three square meals a day, or clean bedsheets, or the care or attention that my dad needed, and on top of that they have a specific policy in the contract that states if a resident graduates to a higher level of care, they no longer need to provide a 30-day notice to terminate their lease.
"You know, I watch the news and I see all these heartwarming stories about landlords forgiving rent for their tenants to help during COVID, but I never thought someone during this time would be calling to demand rent from an elderly person who is in the hospital potentially dying and can't even return to where they live under their rules. It's ridiculous."
After expressing his frustration with Astor House and paying a moving company $1,500 to remove his father's belongings, the son received a bill in the mail dated May 18 for $11,250 — all of his father's rent dating back to January, including months in which his father was either in the ICU fighting COVID-19 or not allowed to return to the residence per Astor House's safety rules. The cost of the monthly rent saw an uptick, too.
The son claims his father's rent was paid up through March 31, so the lion's share of the total was billed in error. The remainder was billed to the family despite the resident leaving the facility in March to receive treatment for the virus and never being allowed to return, his room vacant save for all his belongings and the accumulated trash, dirty towels and sheets that he said the staff refused to pick up or wash.
Angry and worried about how the erroneous bill could impact his family financially, the son told Astor House he would not be paying the bill and he provided a copy of the letter to his lawyer. He hasn't received correspondence from Astor House since.
It is unclear at this point whether the son or other families of current and former residents are going to pursue legal action against Holiday Retirement.
"We have always encouraged our residents to stay at the community, even during any active COVID-19 cases, as this helped to reduce the spread of the virus," spokeswoman Alyssa Cerrito said. "This included any residents who tested positive, stayed in the hospital, and then returned to the community. We had multiple cases where residents recovered from COVID-19 within the community. Residents were never turned away from returning to their home.
"If a resident keeps belongings in an apartment and they do not give a 30-day notice, our policy is to continue to charge rent as it remains an occupied unit … Based on the details you have provided, we believe the resident you are referring to did have an open balance upon removing their items from the apartment. We acknowledge that there were accounting issues, along with unfortunate timing, that resulted in additional late fees and charges. After these errors were corrected, there was still a balance owed since personal belongings remained in the apartment, however as a good will gesture, the balance has been waived."
One of the tragedies of his father's situation, the son said, is the horror he had to face in a place that he truly enjoyed living before the pandemic hit. Multiple friends who the father spent time with at meals or during other activities were among those at Astor House who died of COVID-19.
"My dad loved it there before all this," the son said. "He and my mom moved in there back in 2018. My mom passed away of natural causes about four months later and we didn't think my dad would live much longer. I think what kept him going was all of his friends at Astor House and his life there. My dad was a mail carrier for more than three decades in Newberg and he was a major star on the Newberg Tigers baseball team back in the '50s, so he loves this community and knew plenty of people. When that was taken away from him and his needs weren't even being met, it was devastating for him."
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