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Troubled Times At Silvercrest 

Elderly and disabled residents struggle to regain their balance after a series of disasters

On July 21, around noon, Silvercrest resident Kathleen Buchanan was preparing to distribute cat food to fellow cat owners in her apartment complex. She was waiting outside the cargo elevator on the ground floor as another resident, David Kelly, rode his electric scooter on ahead of her. Suddenly the elevator began to rise, although the doors were still open and Kelly’s scooter wasn’t all the way in.

“I’m yelling, ‘David, get out of the chair,’” Buchanan said, sitting in a coffee shop several weeks later. “He’s yelling, ‘I can’t move!’ He goes, ‘I can’t breathe!’”

The scooter rose until it was crushed between the elevator floor and the second floor. Buchanan said she yelled again to Kelly, and he told her he was out of the chair and on the elevator floor. He wanted his oxygen, he told her. “He said, ‘I’m going to die here,’” she said. She told him she was going for help. First she ran into a volunteer, she said, who didn’t think it’d be OK to pull the fire alarm. Buchanan then found one of the management staff — who, Buchanan accuses, tried to deal with the elevator herself before calling the fire department. (Last Friday the staff member denied that she’d delayed calling the fire department.)

Buchanan went back to talk to Kelly.

Fire engines arrived, and an ambulance, and eventually an Otis Elevator repairman who, according to the Eureka Fire Department’s report on the incident, manually lowered the hydraulic elevator by bleeding the lift cylinder. Kelly was taken to the hospital.

Silvercrest is a 150-unit low-income complex for elderly and disabled people. The green, five-story building, close to the Long’s shopping center on Myrtle, is owned by the Salvation Army and run by its Silvercrest Management Department. Residents’ rent is partially subsidized by HUD. Buchanan said she thinks Silvercrest management hasn’t been responsive to residents. And, in the past few weeks, several other residents of Silvercrest have shared similar complaints with the Journal.

They said construction on the building’s exterior has dragged on for a year. Worse, in June, a beloved maintenance supervisor who’d been at Silvercrest ever since the building was built, 27 years ago, was fired — with police officers on hand during the process, said residents; management offered no explanation. It upset a lot of people. Resident Georgia Bednar circulated a petition stating objection to the firing, which 45 residents signed, and mailed it with a letter to local, regional and top management. Then a new property manager came on board — some residents said he’s hard to communicate with. And then the courtesy wheelchairs that used to be parked in the lobby for people returning from the hospital to use were discarded.

And on July 4, just after a celebratory luncheon, a hot water pipe broke in the boiler room, on the roof. Bednar was helping another resident clean up after the luncheon. “And then I walked out into a pool of water,” she said.

According to the EFD’s report on that incident, inch-deep water flooded down stairs and walls and through the floors/ceilings, inundating hallways and the elevator areas (there are two elevators in the building) on every floor, as well as a couple of units. The EFD report said a mop-up crew arrived to clean up the water, and that a plumber, electrician and Otis repairman had been summoned. The firemen, said Buchanan, told residents not to use the elevators.

Eventually, the elevators began running again. And on July 21 came the elevator malfunction.

Now everything’s just a shambles, the complainers said. A walk through the building with one resident on Aug. 8 revealed peeled-off baseboards, stained carpets, missing ceiling panels, and stacks of boxed books, which had been rescued from library shelves, on every floor. Only the smaller elevator was functioning, and a swarm of scooter-bound residents waited in hallways, jockeying with cane-walkers and others to get on board. (Last week, the big elevator was again running.)

Some residents wonder if the elevators were properly inspected after the flood. Resident Mary Prater said she had noticed a strange buzzing in the big elevator not long after the flood, and before it malfunctioned. She mentioned it to a volunteer at the staff desk who, she said, brushed it off, saying, “Oh, it always makes noise.”

Otis branch manager Marcus Burton had no comment when contacted last week, saying Otis has a strict policy against talking to the media “any time there is a threat of litigation.”

Residents also wonder if the boiler break could have been avoided in the first place — the boiler had been acting up for a while. “We have a new manager here who doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Buchanan said. She and others have written to management — including the Silvercrest property management director, Susan Lawrence, in Long Beach. They’re not happy with the responses.

By phone from Long Beach last week, Lawrence said Otis was “working frantically” to fix the elevator — and that it had been checked after the flood. (Note: Last Thursday, the state-issued permit posted on the big elevator’s inside wall indicated that the last time it had been inspected was May 21, 2008.) As for the other complaints, she said, “People don’t like change.” She said the new manager is only the third one the building’s had in its 27 years. She added that the property, at its age, is bound to have problems. But once refurbished “it’s going to be beautiful.”

On Friday, Aug. 15, Silvercrest’s regional property manager, Gina Dawson, came up from Sacramento to update residents on the construction and to introduce new staff members, including a new maintenance supervisor and a services coordinator. A complaint fest ensued, over everything from a breached cat deposit policy to the recent disasters — although several residents spoke up to defend management. One man said shakily, “I’ve been here 18 years and, lately, I’ve been ready to move.”

Nearly three hours later, Dawson and the residents had arrived at some possible solutions: There’d be an incident log for the elevators posted at the main desk in the lobby. Communication would be improved by having everyone put things in writing. Having a full staff once again should smooth things out. A new plumber had been hired. Construction was wrapping up. The elevator had been repaired. And crews would soon be repairing all of the flood damage.

“It’s been one crazy time,” Dawson said. “But the good thing is, we’re coming out of that.”

Many seemed pleased with the session, and clapped. In the hall outside the meeting room, Jill Wilson muttered in disgust at the complainers. She wanted the Journal to know that she’s “pro-management.”

“We’re cranky people,” Wilson said. “We’re 160 old, cranky people. And we hate change.”

Last Friday, David Kelly — the man trapped in the elevator — sat in the office of his lawyer, James Zito. He’d missed the meeting at Silvercrest because he was busy getting his rental scooter repaired — it’s acted funky since he got it after his was crushed. At least, he said, Otis “finally came through” and is paying the rent. Still, he’s considering filing a complaint.

He recalled what happened the day the elevator failed. “It pinched the scooter, and it pushed me out,” he said. “My head hit the side wall and my back hit the other side.” He spent several hours at the hospital, and was told he’d had a concussion. Now, he said, his left leg keeps going numb — a new issue, and unrelated, he said, to the foot problems that require his use of a scooter — and he has blurry vision.

He doesn’t know yet who will pay for a new scooter. Or reimburse him for the cost of hiring a caregiver to drive him places. But what really steams Kelly is what he perceives as a lack of concern from Silvercrest and Otis. No one visited him at the hospital, he said. Nobody called him that day.

“I waited almost a full week before anyone contacted me,” he said.

Meanwhile, this Tuesday, two residents called the Journal to report that the big elevator had gotten stuck again Monday night, this time between the 4th and 5th floors, with a couple of residents inside.

Later on Tuesday, EFD Fire Captain Ken Weaver said he had responded to the call, but that by the time he arrived the elevator had been unstuck and no one was inside.

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About The Author

Heidi Walters

Heidi Walters worked as a staff writer at the North Coast Journal from 2005 to 2015.

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