Elderly residents who had hoped to live out their lives at the Palazzo Di Oro — the Golden Palace — are reeling from news that the assisted living facility will close in a matter of weeks.
Some wept after being summoned to a hastily called meeting where the announcement was made.
"It's just like a kick in the head. My stomach just sunk. I really couldn't believe it," said Rita Dudley, 82, who has lived at the ALF at 3600 34th St. S for three years and is president of the residents council.
"I dread leaving here. It's just a lovely place."
Kyle Mincey attended the meeting on behalf of his 81-year-old aunt, Dorothy Harris, who suffers from memory loss.
"I just thought it was very disappointing how they conducted and handled the situation," he said. "There were a lot of residents who were very upset."
That didn't surprise Debra Dobbs, assistant professor at the School of Aging at the University of South Florida.
"The majority of people who move to an assisted living facility expect to age in place, and psychologically it is detrimental for their well-being having to plan on such short notice," she said.
Residents are probably worrying about the loss of friendships or whether they are going to a place with the same amenities, she added.
"They might be concerned that this is a trend that is happening with other places," Dobbs said. "What if this happens again?"
Debbie Garrett, a friend of Mincey's aunt and a regular visitor, was present for part of the closing announcement.
"We walked into the meeting, and there were five corporate people in suits," she recalled. "They said they were losing the building, and the residents have to move within 55 days."
Pinellas County records indicate that the property, which in various incarnations served as another retirement community and was a series of hotels, is in foreclosure. Senior Care Group, Palazzo Di Oro's operator, is named in the foreclosure document, as is its chairman, David R. Vaughan. Also, according to the Pinellas County Tax Collector on Tuesday, Palazzo Di Oro owes $182,460.69 in property taxes for the past two years.
Vaughan, 79, did not return phone calls, but in a statement, Senior Care Group said it does not own Palazzo Di Oro, but "manages and operates" the facility on behalf of private investors.
Information filed with the Agency for Health Care Administration, which regulates the state's 36,000 health care facilities, shows that Palazzo Di Oro is owned by SCG Palazzo Operator LLC, whose initials and 1240 Marbella Plaza Drive, Tampa, address correspond to that of Senior Care Group. Documents submitted to Florida's division of corporations state that Vaughan, Senior Care Group's chairman, is the registered agent.
In its statement delivered through Zangela Montgomery, Senior Care Group's regional sales and marketing director, the company said it "will not comment on the information that is being provided regarding a potential closing."
"We will do what is best for the residents and the employees in compliance with the state law," the Tampa company said.
Natalie Clanzy, district manager for the Department of Elder Affairs' Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, has been working to make sure Palazzo Di Oro residents find proper homes.
"We're out there to make sure they are given a choice of where they move to," she said.
"We are also there to make sure that all their personal belongings go with them, including their medications, all their medical records and all personal property. We've seen problems with that in the past."
As of Tuesday afternoon, AHCA had not received official notice that the ALF planned to close.
"The requirement is a 90-day notification in writing to the agency prior to closing," said Shelisha Coleman, AHCA's public information officer.
Facilities also are required to notify residents, their relatives or representatives at least 30 days before the doors close, she said.
According to AHCA, Palazzo Di Oro is licensed for 100 residents. At the time the closing was announced, it had about 78, Clanzy said. Senior Care Group, which, according to its website, owns, manages and operates 22 properties in Florida and several other states, prides itself in acquiring underperforming facilities and transforming them into profitable enterprises.
Recently the company ran into legal trouble after an investigation by the FBI and the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. On Feb. 10, a U.S. attorney in North Carolina announced that the Tampa firm had agreed to pay $953,375 to settle allegations that it had defrauded Medicare. The fraud allegations involved two of its facilities there.
In St. Petersburg, Jane Barr, whose mother, Gladys Lauf, 94, suffers from dementia and has been at the ALF for 2 1/2 years, bristles at the way plans to close the Palazzo Di Oro were announced.
"Having a one-day notice to come to a family meeting with not even an idea of what it was about. … It's like, what's happening here?'' said Barr.
Mincey is worried about his aunt, who might be in the early stages of Alzheimer's. In better days, she asked him to be her guardian. He thought she was settled in at Palazzo Di Oro. Now he will have to move her.
"She's used to the staff that works there, and it's just upsetting for her as well as the others,'' he said. "It just made me think, I wonder what the future is like for myself, if I were to see 81 or older.''
Times staff writer Susan Taylor Martin and Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.