By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times
Mon May 7 2012 12:00 AM
“If you’re lucky, you’ll find something around $3,500,” said Majid Ali, a 57-year-old acupuncturist whose mother has Alzheimer’s. “More often than not it’s $6,000 to $7,000 per month and up.”
It took Ali two years to find the right place for his mother and her sister, who is deaf. Even with long-term care insurance policies, some facilities were too expensive. Others didn’t provide the specialized dementia care his mother needs.
A social worker suggested he visit the homes operated by Raya’s Paradise Inc., which proposed the Sierra Bonita facility. Ali’s mother and aunt now share a room in a Mediterranean-style house with lush landscaping and homey cooking smells wafting from the kitchen. There are weekly exercise classes, and an accordion player drops by to serenade the residents.
“They’re far better,” Ali said. “My mom has moments of being more lucid…. My aunt is a bit more sociable. She has other people to talk to.”
Los Angeles County is one of six in California where low-income seniors who would otherwise be in nursing homes can use their Medi-Cal benefits to help pay for such care.
But the program is expected to serve only about 1,790 people this year, according to the California Department of Health Care Services.
Just 55 of the county’s 1,356 licensed facilities participate in the program. Operators have been slow to sign on, saying reimbursement rates are too low.
Moti Gamburd, executive director of Raya’s Paradise, said sharing staff and amenities at what already could legally be operated as two side-by-side six-bed care homes would help keep costs down. He could charge $2,500 to $5,000 a month and offer at least one bed to a low-income resident at half price, he said.
L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents the area, said the developer did not do enough to address neighborhood concerns about the facility. “I don’t know how many of them you even want in one neighborhood,” he said.
City planning officials believe the project could encourage other group homes in the area to expand.
“Such a precedent would incrementally begin to erode the low-density character and appearance of the area,” Associate Zoning Administrator Lourdes Green wrote in an Oct. 4 decision rejecting the project.
Robert Cherno, a land use consultant hired by the developer, points to a city ordinance that allows people with disabilities to apply for “reasonable accommodation” to ensure equal housing access. His client should not have had to apply for a variance, a process that took nearly two years and cost $8,843.50, Cherno said.
Another city official agreed with Cherno on the applicability of the law but said in this case a larger facility was not needed to reduce housing barriers. Chief Zoning Administrator Linn K. Wyatt noted in a March 6 decision that the developer already operates five facilities in the vicinity.
Raya’s Paradise has appealed the decision and filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing alleging discrimination by the city.
The conflict over where group homes should be allowed and how to control them has spread to City Hall. A controversial proposed ordinance would designate licensed care facilities with more than six beds as “public benefits,” meaning they would no longer need special permits to operate in low-density areas if they meet parking, noise and other city standards.
But the same measure could create problems for some smaller homes that can now operate without city or state approval. A provision barring multiple tenant lease agreements in single-family zones could force many to shut down, according to advocates for the disabled.
Koretz said the city needs to find a way to crack down on problem facilities without interfering with ones providing valuable services.
On Sierra Bonita, some residents now wonder if opposing the Alzheimer’s home was the best course. Like her neighbors, Rita Tateel had concerns about the project. Then she agreed to tour one of the other facilities operated by Raya’s Paradise.
“I have to say what they did there is beautifully done,” she said. “You can’t even tell that it’s a care facility from the outside.” She started thinking of her 92-year-old mother-in-law.
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