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OpEd: Senior Assisted Living Home in Residential Neighborhoods


OpEd: Senior Assisted Living Home in Residential Neighborhoods

I read and enjoy your paper regularly and I thought you and your readers would be interested in knowing what happened at the board of supervisors meeting on November 10, 2015 in regards to expanding our senior assisted living home in Santa Rosa. The supervisors voted 4 out of 5 against a project presented before them for the expansion of a 6 bed Residential Care Facility for the Elderly into a 12 bed residential community. This vote was a big surprise based on the needs of this county.

I thought I should clarify in this letter the outraged feelings it produced by giving you a little explanation based on facts:

The Board of Supervisors with our own Supervisor Shirley Zane spearheaded the initiative (published on the front page article of the PD in May 2015) adopted a vision for Sonoma County called "Aging Together Sonoma County" where there has been an emphasis on the needs of the elderly in Sonoma County and in response to the rapid growth of a that portion of our population demonstrated as follows:

Sonoma County has 500,000.00 citizens, out of which, today we have 20% (100,000.00) 65 and older (census, ombudsman and AAA ). This number will become 25% (125,000.00) within the next 15 years. TODAY, we only have roughly 4,700.00 beds available in Sonoma County for seniors (4.5% ), between Skilled Nursing Facility beds (1,700 beds in SNF) and Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly beds (3,100 in RCFE). These numbers show the incredible ascending lodging crisis and the lack of options that our elderly face!

In addition, Ken Porter wrote in a PD article from May 2015 that, " elected leaders set the stage for making Sonoma County a national model for how to care for and interact with its aging population..." He goes on to indicate that " it will be a challenge in the years ahead to find stable housing for our seniors to live "...and " both social isolation and loneliness are associated with a higher risk of mortality in older adults". Even French actress Juliette Binoche stated in an interview with NPR in September 2015 that " aging is a necessary attribute to wisdom in life" and that "we all have to embrace aging".

In addition, this project of expansion met all the county regulations and codes with height, size, safety, traffic, parking, noise, water...etc. This project was approved unanimously in June 2015 by the PRMD staff with a favorable 5 out 5 vote by the Sonoma County Commissioners!! The commissioners concluded that there were no valid objections presented and that the "not in my backyard" attitude was not a valid objection and that neighbors needed to realize they can no longer live in a bubble when the rest of the county is in crisis. After all of this and even stating, "we understand the needs..." the board voted 4 out of 5 AGAINST the project, listening to the incredible resistance of the neighborhood to accept compassionate senior housing in their community. Perhaps some neighborhoods are exempt from our countywide problems...perhaps some "privileged "areas in the county would not like to be bothered, and would prefer not to "seeour problems in their neighborhood…perhaps the Board feels there are the "haves and the have-nots", and clearly some areas are the "haves"!!

Has our collective xenophobia now come to include aging? How can care homes for seniors be cast as " incompatible " with our neighborhoods? By regarding them as businesses in a residential neighborhood! Well, I suppose the care of all these seniors could instead be paid for through the County general fund? The same general fund that can't even pay county- employed in-home caregivers a living wage?

Yes, let's create some more unfunded mandates. Let’s ship all of our seniors over to the county-run facility so we don't have a " business " in the neighborhood! Running a private senior care facility is no more a business than PG&E or Comcast supplying electricity or phone service to the community. It is no more a business than a paving company hired to replace the roads, or a landscape company, or a fence builder, or an appliance repair person, or a house painter. And yes, these services all require that money changes hands because there are costs involved, salaries to be paid, and an owner who also needs to make a living. For that matter, is renting an extra room in your house a business? What about renting the whole house out? How about a vacation rental?

At the hearing, 2 supervisors (Rabbitt and Carillo) stated they had a real "dilemma" and "trouble making up their minds" but, had to vote against the expansion, while 2 other Board members (Gorin and Gore) stated " good planning and great looking building", but found the proposed project "Incompatible" with the neighborhood. Only Supervisor Zane approved the project and was outraged at her colleague's votes.

This particular neighborhood, where a large amount of residents seem elderly themselves, has oversized homes on large parcels some bigger and taller than the proposed project!  Incompatibility? Here's what's incompatible: that seniors needing a care home must live in a warehousing facility with no human amenities in an institutional environment. That is incompatible with life. 

We need facilities in neighborhoods, not only in institutions. As Marianne McBride, president and CEO of the non profit Council on Aging said: "the goal is total cultural changes around the aging and that this change needs to happen in EVERY neighborhood and on EVERY block"!!

I am open to any questions you might have to have a better understanding of the situation, but I hope you will consider publicizing this very unfortunate event.

Alain Serkissian, Administrator
Mirabel Lodge, Premiere Assisted Living Community