FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- The largest assisted-living facility for Medicaid recipients in Texas is voluntarily shuttering after years of budget deficits and as residential developers clamor for real estate in the nation's seventh fastest-growing city, the owner confirmed Friday.
The Westchester Plaza, a 12-story property at the center of Fort Worth's medical district, has operated as an assisted-living facility for the elderly since 1998. It has a licensed capacity of 275 residents but is down to about 115 residents, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Too few, owner Doug Sweeney told The Associated Press, to pay for its continued upkeep.
The residents — low-income, intellectually or physically disabled adults — learned Monday that they have until August 10 to find a new place to live.
"They were all, 'Surprise!' You're all out of here," 56-year-old stroke victim and resident Ralph Banner said, adding that he plans to move to an assisted-living facility in Dallas.
The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services has staff on site to "monitor the closure activities," said spokeswoman Kelli Weldon.
"All of the regulatory agencies are completely integrated into the process and are on site as additional safeguards to see to it that folks have a place to live," Sweeney said from the entrance to the building. The Fort Worth facility has the air of an aging luxury apartment building more than a long-term care facility, with manicured front lawn, ornate columns, chandelier and grand piano. Westchester Plaza vehicles advertise it as "affordable luxury assisted living."
WGH Heritage Inc., the nonprofit controlled by Sweeney, operates two other assisted-living facilities in Fort Worth, and has piloted an IT system at all three that he says has dramatically improved the quality of care.
Greg Todd, a resident since 2010, said that he has prized the relative freedom of living at the facility, compared to a nursing home. The 60-year-old New Jersey native has been treated for various mental illnesses since 1985, he said.
Each resident has a one-bedroom apartment, whereas many nursing homes have only double-occupancy rooms.
"I have my own little place and I can come and go," Todd said.
WGH Heritage reported a more than $2 million deficit in its latest tax filing. It also posted multi-million-dollar deficits in 2014 and 2013.
Five years ago, the company defaulted on its loans and restructured $20 million in debt backed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
WGH Heritage agreed in 2015 to pay $30,000 in civil penalties to the Texas attorney general's office to settle a lawsuit stemming from complaints that the assisted-living facility did not have a working sprinkler system for eight months in 2012, Tarrant County district clerk records show.
The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services investigated dozens of complaints in 2012. Now, under the words "Wall of Excellence," Sweeney proudly displays state complaint forms. Many of the forms show that the complaints of license violations were unsubstantiated. Forms with bright yellow stickers indicate where regulators did find violations, and say that additional records can be found at the front desk.
Texas regulators last investigated a complaint about the facility in March, concluding it had "failed to follow its internal policies regarding the prevention, detection, and reporting of abuse, neglect, or exploitation," records show.
Three years ago, HCP Inc., a California-based real estate investment trust, announced plans to buy the property, saying it wanted to tear it down and build a $108.6 million development with residential units and offices. The deal fell through.