More Help Urged for HIV Tenants
Tenants’ complaints about inadequate attention from management at a West Hollywood apartment complex built for people living with AIDS prompted a city-ordered review that concluded that additional staff is needed to assist the sick.
The report by a New York consultant found that although a majority of tenants were well-served at the complex, management of Palm View Apartments must do a better job defining “independent living” so that all residents clearly understand what kind of services to expect.
Among its 20 recommendations, the study also advised West Hollywood Community Housing Corp., which operates the 40-unit apartment building, to hire an additional resident services coordinator, noting that one staff member handles too many tenants at 12 buildings managed by the firm.
In September, the housing corporation was given 90 days to respond to the consultant’s report and develop a plan of action. After the corporation asked for an additional 30 days at a Dec. 1 City Council session, its response is expected at tonight’s meeting.
Under an agreement with the city of West Hollywood, the company is responsible for providing subsidized units for low-income people living with AIDS. Staff members are to monitor residents’ needs for social services, but tenants live on their own. The $6.5-million complex, which opened in 1998, was funded with city and county money and private donations from the entertainment industry. Many of the 48 tenants were referred to Palm View by the Actor’s Fund of America, which put $2.5 million into the project.
At Palm View, individuals are responsible for securing their own supportive care, said Paul Zimmerman, executive director of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corp. If residents need help connecting to services, they can call on the resident services coordinator for a referral, he said.
The consultant’s study came after four neighbors complained that tenant Kevin McDaniel was virtually abandoned by managers of the complex when his health took a quick turn for the worse a year ago. His neighbors noticed that he hardly came out of his unit and appeared disheveled and lethargic.”He looked like a survivor from Auschwitz,” said David Joseph, a fellow tenant. “We were concerned. He wouldn’t come to the door, he wouldn’t answer his phone.”
At least four residents say they called Lee Myers, the resident services coordinator, voicing concerns for McDaniel. Myers told them she was aware of the situation but that McDaniel had not asked for help, the residents say.
The neighbors called an emergency medical hotline in March and building managers contacted the Sheriff’s Department about McDaniel’s condition. The 38-year-old, who was diagnosed as having AIDS in 1991, was hospitalized at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
At the time, McDaniel had withered to 117 pounds. After a 21-day hospital stay, he returned to Palm View, where he receives in-home support services. He now weighs about 160 pounds.
Zimmerman denied that McDaniel was neglected. He said staffers checked on him for three months prior to his hospitalization, but McDaniel had refused assistance. Privacy issues prevented them from discussing their interaction with McDaniel with other tenants, Zimmerman said.
“I have to respect and honor what [people want] until it gets to a point where they can’t make a decision for themselves,” said Myers. She said she checked on McDaniel weekly, suggesting he get medical attention. In the two weeks before he was hospitalized, Myers said, she called him every other day.
While McDaniel said he does not remember what happened the day he was hospitalized, he said last week that he did not recall any attention from Myers in the months before his episode.
“She never sat me down, tried to talk to me or show any real concern,” said McDaniel. “I don’t remember getting any phone calls.”
Local AIDS health service providers say the independent living model for people with AIDS is a helpful option, but that residents often experience severe side effects from their medications, especially when changing regimens.
“It’s very easy to get dehydrated and weak with nausea,” said Laura Black, director of nursing for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “You can get so weak and not be able to help yourself.”
After learning about McDaniel’s case, Councilman Sal Guarriello said, “I’m furious. Do you have to wait [until] they’re dying before you pay attention?”
West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang said the city is committed to finding solutions to tenants’ concerns.
“We have been really proud of the fact that we’re able to provide these people affordable housing and some quality of life,” Prang said. “We probably won’t make everybody happy, but we do the best we can.”