Date: 2000-07-15

The Record (New Jersey)

Author: ALEX NUSSBAUM, Staff Writer; The Record

State officials swooped into a Montvale boarding home for the elderly Thursday and closed it down, removing nine tenants living in unsanitary, unsupervised conditions.

The residents, all between the ages of 70 and 90, were resting Friday in two Bergen County group homes where the state relocated them. None required medical attention, but all emerged from the Hillas Vale Guest Lodge unwashed, underfed, and glad to be out, officials said.

"They were living without supervision, 80-year-old people cleaning their own clothes and cooking their own food, and some of them paid $1,000 a month to live there," said Victor Baykal, chief of the state Bureau of Rooming and Boarding House Standards.

The owner of the two-story home at 79 W. Grand Ave., Maureen Culhane, faces no further disciplinary action for the conditions in the building beyond its shuttering, Baykal said. But Culhane, whose home was almost shut by the state on two previous occasions, faces a $10,000 fine for refusing to allow state inspectors into the house, he said.

And another health care center she owns, the 18-bed Shannon House Rest Home in Waldwick, has been forced to curtail admissions because of similar violations, according to a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

Efforts to reach Culhane, of Montvale, were unsuccessful Friday. No one answered the phone at the Waldwick home, either.

The nine seniors emerged with no serious health problems, though all were noticeably thin, said Jay Meyerowitz, the medical director for Potomac Group Homes, a chain of facilities for Alzheimer's patients where the state temporarily moved the tenants. Seven were taken to Potomac's Park Ridge center and two to Woodcliff Lake.

"Emotionally, they were very distraught and very distressed," said Meyerowitz, who visited the seniors Friday. Some of the men were unshaven; some had cavities and other untreated dental problems, he said.

"They were slightly disheveled," he said. "I would say unkempt. They looked like they hadn't been provided baths or clean clothes for a while."

The state Department of Community Affairs, which licenses boarding homes for seniors, had been fighting to shut Hillas Vale at least since September 1998, when it denied Culhane's application to renew her license.

Department officials finally arrived to close the home around 9 a.m. Thursday, the day after DCA Commissioner Jane Kenny upheld an administrative law judge's denial of Culhane's appeal.

Judge Edith Klinger, in her June 12 decision, cited repeated violations at the home, including a failure to provide adequate food for the tenants.

"Culhane habitually operated Hillas Vale in a manner that endangered the health, safety, and welfare of the residents. . . . She repeatedly neglected them, threatened them, intimidated them, underfed them, exploited their labor and finances, and left them in unsanitary and/or distasteful conditions," the judge found.

Two previous requests for an emergency shutdown failed after inspectors returned to find better supervision at the home. But Klinger ruled those were temporary improvements made only to stave off closure.

Baykal said it appeared Culhane had provided even fewer services to the seniors in the month after Klinger's decision; on Thursday, DCA workers found dirty dishes around the kitchen, and residents complained they'd been left with nothing but spaghetti sauce to eat for one three-day stretch.

The seniors will be at the Potomac homes indefinitely, their stays financed by the state, until permanent arrangements can be made, Baykal said. The state has reached relatives of six of the nine residents so far, he said.

The problems at Culhane's Waldwick home were of a similar nature to the Montvale violations, he said. A state Health Department spokesman, Dennis McGowan, said admissions to the home had been "curtailed pending sale of the property" but could not provide more information.

"The department continues to monitor the care of the facility for residents there," he said.

Bergen County Prosecutor William Schmidt said he would ask his staff to investigate whether criminal charges are warranted.

Staff Writer Alex Nussbaum's e-mail address is nussbaum(at)


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