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Alzheimer’s Home Plan Is Debated

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Representatives of ManorCare Health Services Inc., a national nursing home chain, want to build a facility in Woodland Hills that would address one of the toughest problems in elder care: Alzheimer’s disease.

But some neighbors of the proposed 60-bed home tailored for people with Alzheimer’s and other kinds of memory loss aren’t putting out the welcome mat.

The proposed one-story home, to be surrounded by a block wall and equipped with an electronic security system, is “essentially a high-security prison,” said neighbor John Ashby, who opposes the project. “If what they were planning to do was a little less outrageous, people wouldn’t be so upset.”

Gaithersburg, Md.,-based ManorCare wants to build the 27,000-square-foot Arden Courts residence on an empty three-acre lot at 22200 Burbank Blvd.

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The project reflects a fast-growing trend in the nursing-home industry toward less costly facilities tailored for older people with various types of dementia--people who often don’t fit well into more traditional nursing-home settings.

ManorCare, a billion-dollar-a-year company, has built 20 such homes in the past three years and is planning to open 60 more, including Arden Courts.

“Someone who may not remember someone’s name doesn’t necessarily need to be in a nursing facility,” said Traies Roe, ManorCare’s director of development.

Increasingly, smaller group homes also provide living situations for people with Alzheimer’s. But larger institutions are increasingly jumping into the market.

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ManorCare’s proposal is for a three-wing housing facility with separate rooms for each resident, rooms for arts and activities, and a central outdoor court with walking paths. The cost per patient is expected to be between $100 and $125 a day, Roe said.

Although a staff of as many as 18 workers will be on duty 24 hours a day, the home is designed to give residents the ability to move around and participate in activities they choose, without giving them so much freedom that they might wander away, she said.

Two community meetings last week gave the company a glimpse of what could be a tough fight ahead.

“There were what I would call extreme concerns,” Roe said. “People are afraid that there are going to be old, confused people walking around neighborhoods, which is not true.”

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Ashby said neighbors are primarily worried about more typical affects of development concerning traffic and aesthetics.

The home would represent the only commercial use in the residential neighborhood, he said, and replace with a block wall his view of an open hillside.

But Ashby and others are also worried about the prospective residents’ behavior. “I am worrying about someone hopping the fence and ending up on their stomach in my pool,” he said.

“People are worried that they will be wandering the neighborhood, getting into cars,” Ashby said. “There’s a lot of kids around here.”

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Roe said such fears are baseless. The building is secured, and, “This is for early to mid-stages of Alzheimer’s. It is not a nursing home. It is not a psychiatric hospital.”

Not all the neighbors are opposed to the project. Oscar Elbaum, whose house is also near the site, said he was taken aback by the vehemence of residents’ objections.

“The first meeting,” he said, “the people against it said they will escape and ring doorbells . . . They said [the prospective residents] are mental patients. People are ignorant . . . They were so angry, like this pent-up anger.”

Elbaum said he knows about people with Alzheimer’s because his mother had the disease and was living in a small residential facility for people with Alzheimer’s before her death.

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“She had no idea where she was. Every time we came, she wanted to cook for us,” he said. “You know, it’s very sad.”

ManorCare’s Roe said the company has not been put off by the neighbors’ objections to the plan and will continue to push for the project.

ManorCare has a purchase agreement pending with the property owner, but has not yet filed an application with the city of Los Angeles for a conditional-use permit.

She said more homes such as this one will soon be cropping up in residential neighborhoods.

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“We are looking for appropriate locations, and they need to be residential locations where residents and family will be comfortable,” she said. “We always say, does it pass the mom test? Would you bring your mom there?”


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