Update: this story was updated on Jan. 20 at 12:30 p.m. to includes additional information and to clarify the exchange between the City of Boulder and Golden West in the months before the closure.
Earlier this month, after Golden West announced it was closing its assisted living home and gave residents 60 days to move out, Mike Morrison said he called 40 providers across the Front Range to try to find his mother and sister, who both live there, another place to live.
“There is no other place with two rooms together,” Morrison said. “If I shipped them off, each of them to a different part of Colorado, we wouldn’t be a family anymore.”
His sister has Cerebral Palsy, and his mother is 92 and experiencing memory loss, he said. He wants them to remain together and close by so he can take care of them.
Morrison said he sent in an application for them to live next door, in Golden West’s independent living home, known as the Towers. He hasn’t heard back.
“I wish we had more time,” he said. “That’s left me with the inability to put together a plan B.”
On Jan. 4, Golden West, a Boulder-based nonprofit, announced it was shutting down the assisted living home, located at 1055 Adams Circle, due to financial reasons. The nonprofit is planning to keep open the Towers, a federally subsidized independent living home for older adults, though it is ending the dining program.
The assisted living closure, effective on March 4, will displace at least 33 residents, many requiring daily care for underlying health conditions, such as dementia. Some have built a support system over years that their families fear, if lost, will not be replaced.
The two-month notice is likely to force them to scatter across Colorado in search of a new home with practically no time to spare.
“I’m looking as far afield as Lakewood and Loveland, even as far as California,” Daniel Wentworth, a 67-year-old Army veteran who moved into the assisted living center about a year ago. “Everything in Boulder is waitlisted. And we don’t have time to be waitlisted.”
Most of the residents rely on Medicaid, which pays for caregivers to administer medications and prepare meals, among other daily tasks. Without the subsidy, they would pay about $5,000 per month.
Golden West’s assisted living home, known as the Mezzanine, is the last one in the City of Boulder that accepts Medicaid. Some residents who don’t require medical care are considering giving up those assisted living services and moving into independent living. This could save them money and allow them to stay in Boulder.
“At 76, I have to go some other place and start all over,” said one resident of the Mezzanine who requested to remain anonymous out of concern it would jeopardize her chances of finding housing.
Getting into the Towers is not likely for most. The 253 income-restricted independent living apartments are about 94% full, with about 12 rooms open, according to the company. And, in recent weeks, the property management company that Golden West hired raised rent, according to residents. It is also requiring residents to show an annual income of about $27,000 for a studio.
John Torres, the nonprofit’s interim chief executive officer, said about eight residents have been processed to move to another home. One is moving to Washington State, he said, in part to be closer to family.
Many of the residents know the physical therapists, maintenance staff and other workers by name. Torres said about 20 employees will be laid off due to the closure. He said many plan to keep working until March 4.
“I do think there is some trauma,” Torres said of the transition. “This kind of change is monumental.”
Some residents have asked whether they can stay in the assisted living studios, even if their services go away. Torres said it is unlikely due to the potential costs, such as putting in kitchens.
“It would be hard,” he said. “We really have to control the expenses over there for the time being, and then step back and figure out how to move forward.”
City of Boulder said it offered money to prevent closure
In the last year, at least four assisted living homes in Boulder County have closed, according to county officials. The closures reflect the broader financial struggles confronting the long-term care industry. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in more people aging in place in their families’ homes rather than senior-living communities.
Meanwhile, inflation and the high cost of living, especially in places like Boulder, have resulted in caregivers seeking higher wages, driving up the cost of assisted living. While Colorado has increased its Medicaid reimbursement rates in recent years, such payments have not kept pace with the cost of running these businesses, according to providers.
Complicating the situation at Golden West was its $25 million renovation, which was completed only months before the closure announcement. The first housing units at Golden West opened in 1965, and the renovation included replacing carpet and installing new windows and cabinets.
For years, the revenue from the independent living facility essentially subsidized the assisted living home. But in part to help pay for the renovations, the organization split the two homes into two separate businesses, Torres said. As a result, the independent living facility was no longer able to subsidize the assisted living home, which has always struggled to break even.
Late last year, the organization’s board of directors spoke with City of Boulder officials to discuss the possibility of closing its assisted living home, according to Kurt Firnhaber, the city’s director of Housing and Human Services.
Firnhaber said the city pitched ideas to prevent the closure, including providing city funding or housing vouchers to subsidize the cost of the residents who live there.
“I felt like we were going to get to a solution where Golden West would be able to continue with assisted living,” Firnhaber told Boulder Reporting Lab. “I was a little bit shocked, and more so concerned, that they ended up going in this direction.”
Torres said said the offers were not enough to keep the assisted living home open. He said that the city offered to place formerly homeless people, who would be subsidized with vouchers, on a separate floor. In terms of funding, he said Golden West would have needed at least $2 million per year, for several years, to cover costs. He said he is not aware that an offer of that amount was every made.
Torres served as Golden West’s CEO for 26 years before retiring in March 2020. He took over as the interim chief executive officer after the resignation of John McCarthy, who served in the role from March 2020 to January 2023. Board members have been advised not to speak to reporters.
Erica Corson, the elder rights program manager at the Boulder County Area Agency on Aging, said the county learned of the closure the day the organization announced it to residents and staff. She said it has since been helping residents navigate the transition, which includes making sure their benefits transfer over to new homes. The City of Boulder’s Older Adult Services is providing case managers to help people navigate the transition, too. They can be reached by calling 303-441-4388.
‘Sense of closing in’
Even residents who are not losing their homes have been shocked by the news. Some people who live in the Towers have long planned to transition to assisted living if they were to need more support.
“My son was happy that it had assisted living,” Lynette Wood, 76, said of Golden West before she moved into independent living. “He said, ‘Mom, if there’s a time that you need to go into assisted living, it will be there and you can move over.’ And now it won’t be.”
In 2022, Golden West hired Silva-Markham Partners, a Denver-based property management firm that touts “efficient practices and solutions with proven cost-reduction systems.” Since then, several residents interviewed said staff no longer call them to check in and see if they are okay. The dining hall, which some residents rely on for daily meals, will soon close. Others rely on it as a gathering place.
“The dining room is social,” Marc Killinger, 67, who lives in the Towers, said. “It’s just the sense of closing in, and things being so up in the air, and what’s going to happen to us.”
As residents prepare to move, one caregiver said they are collecting phone numbers so they don’t lose contact. Some people have been together for a decade or more.
“We’ve talked openly about death and dying — meaningful conversations. Growing old and the loss of functionality, the loss of your family and your environment,” Wentworth, who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer before moving into assisted living, said.
Joan Raderman, founder and program director for Circle of Care, a local nonprofit that provides art programs for older adults, said her organization has been working with residents at Golden West for more than a decade.
Raderman said the closure will split up a community that depends on each other.
“It is their network. It is their support system. It is their safety net,” she said. “They are displacing people all over the place that need each other. It’s not only the roof over their head. It was an emotional support system that developed because they were their friends.”