The Spokane area’s largest assisted-living facility is closing its doors to more than 100 residents with severe mental illness and complex medical problems, and social workers are scrambling to find them new homes.
The Carlyle Care Center, at 206 S. Post St. in downtown Spokane, will turn its focus to people who have struggled to find housing because of criminal convictions, said Hilary Young, spokeswoman for Pioneer Human Services, the Seattle-based nonprofit that operates the Carlyle.
“Our primary mission is to serve people with criminal histories,” Young said. Those with rap sheets face “a huge amount of discrimination” when applying for apartments and home loans, she said.
By Halloween, the Carlyle will cease offering comprehensive services for people who struggle to care for themselves, including round-the-clock nursing, housekeeping and all meals.
Some residents fear they’ll end up back on the streets, although Young said Pioneer is working with other service providers to ensure that “every single person” finds another viable place to live.
“We’re really committed to the people who live there,” she said. “We’re really working hard to make (the transition) as seamless as possible.”
Ursula Heflick, who has worked at the Carlyle in various capacities since 2007, called that wishful thinking. She said there aren’t enough beds in the area for the kinds of people who live at the center.
“For many of them, it means they are losing their home,” said Heflick, who also teaches courses on addiction at Spokane Falls Community College.
She expects residents will be told: “Sorry, buddy, you’re out of luck.”
‘It’s helped a lot of people’
Built in 1892, the seven-story Hotel Carlyle had fallen into disrepair by 2000, when Jim and Fay Delegans kicked off a $12 million renovation. While the center was praised for providing quality care, debt from the renovation hampered the Carlyle and U.S. Bank foreclosed on the building in 2006.
The city of Spokane purchased the building that year and quickly began looking for buyers willing to uphold the Carlyle’s mission. A series of a unsuccessful bids followed. Then, in late 2010, Pioneer made an offer of $3.46 million.
The nonprofit bought the building the next year after lowering its bid to $3.2 million.
“It’s helped a lot of people,” said resident Tom Martin, who stood outside the Carlyle on Friday afternoon smoking cigarettes with other residents. He raved about fishing trips and other activities the center provides and showed off his pair of orange-and-gray Fila tennis shoes.
“They keep us clothed,” he said.
Another resident, Dennis Girdauckas, said he has a range of medical problems including emphysema, arthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder. Before moving into the Carlyle five years ago, he had twice found himself homeless, he said.
“Every one of these people has something good to say about the Carlyle,” said Girdauckas, 55. “They’re fantastic at their jobs.”
But he’s angry at Pioneer’s decision-makers in Seattle. His body shook as he sat on a bench Friday morning, watching cars pass by on Post Street.
“Some of those people from Pioneer should come out here and see us,” he said.
Young, the Pioneer spokeswoman, said the nonprofit has some 60 facilities across the state, and the Carlyle is “by far” the most expensive per resident, with annual operating costs of about $3.5 million.
It is Pioneer’s only permanent assisted-living facility and provides a wider range of services than the organization specializes in, Young said. Medicaid subsidies have not kept pace with expenses, she said.
“It’s an expensive line of business,” she added.
The nonprofit also plans to close the Victory House, a transitional housing program for 35 homeless veterans on the seventh floor of the Carlyle, by Sept. 30.
Pioneer also runs the 39-unit Pathway House on South Howard Street and the 40-unit Phoenix House on East Hartson Avenue in Spokane. They provide “supportive” and “transitional” housing, respectively – both lower levels of care than the Carlyle offers.
The next biggest assisted-living facility for people with severe mental illness is Mallon Place, 1724 W. Mallon Ave., with 71 beds.
“Most of these facilities stay quite full. There aren’t a lot of vacancies,” said Christine Barada, the county’s director of community services, housing and community development.
The loss of the Carlyle could deal a significant blow to the local mental health care system.
“It definitely does cause concern,” said Jeff Thomas, the chief executive officer of Frontier Behavioral Health, which provides mental health services at the Carlyle. “There’s not an abundance of facilities designed to meet the needs of this population.”
But Pioneer has done its part to reduce complications, Thomas said, by warning other service providers six months before kicking out Carlyle residents.
“Turning this on a dime could have been disastrous,” he said.
‘I don’t know where I’m going to go’
The Carlyle has room for 127 patients, and its population fluctuates at over 100. The cost per patient ranges from less than $1,500 to more than $3,500 a month.
About half of those patients have expenses covered by Spokane County’s mental health and chemical dependency sales tax, and the rest get help through a combination of state and federal funds, Barada said.
Many patients are referred to the Carlyle from the psychiatric ward at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, or from the overcrowded Eastern State Hospital.
“They’re chronically mentally ill,” Heflick said. “They simply can’t grasp what needs to be done to care for themselves.”
Young, Barada and Thomas said some patients likely will end up in “step-down” or “transitional” facilities where they will have more independence and more responsibilities. They said counselors have been interviewing residents to determine where they would best fit in.
“For about half of the people living (at the Carlyle) today, it’s a stop on their way to more independent living,” Young said.
Heflick questions that.
“Sometimes, when I was a social services manager, I would try to place people at that lower level of care,” she said. “And they invariably either got confused about their medications, or they refused to keep taking them, and they would end up at the hospital. They would stop eating.”
Heflick has spoken out against Pioneer’s plans, although she said she could be fired for it. She’s made a “Save the Carlyle” Facebook page and an online fundraiser with a $3.5 million goal to buy the building. She and others have taken the podium at recent City Council meetings.
“Pioneer is not responsible for the welfare of those patients once they let that license lapse. They can wash their hands of the whole problem,” Heflick said. “I think what they’re doing is absolutely unethical. It’s brutal.”
And even if the nonprofit finds new homes for all of the Carlyle residents, “you still have that loss of 127 beds,” she said. “There’s more where those Carlyle residents came from.”
Angela Delorme, 50, sat beside Dennis Girdauckas on the bench outside the Carlyle on Friday. She said she has schizophrenia, among other diagnoses. She sobbed when asked about her prospects.
“I don’t know where I’m going to go,” she said.
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