High levels of stress, anxiety among seniors stripped of services in Bridgewater apartments

David George Bryant stands in his apartment. The 90-year-old is getting rid of most of his belongings to move into a smaller, rented room which is less than half the size of his current Drumlin Hills apartment in Bridgewater, N.S.  (Brian MacKay/CBC - image credit)
David George Bryant stands in his apartment. The 90-year-old is getting rid of most of his belongings to move into a smaller, rented room which is less than half the size of his current Drumlin Hills apartment in Bridgewater, N.S. (Brian MacKay/CBC - image credit)

Last week, an 84-year-old man in an apartment building for seniors in Bridgewater, N.S., was taken to the hospital after having a mental breakdown, say fellow residents.

"There's been members of the building who have actually been hospitalized in the mental health unit in the hospital just because of just a total breakdown of stress related to this," confirmed Aaron Kenny, pastor at the Bridgewater Baptist Church, who has been meeting regularly with residents of Drumlin Hills apartments.

Residents in 24 assisted-living units in Drumlin Hills used to receive meals, laundry and tenant assistance. Those services end on Nov. 30 because the current owner has changed the building's business model. Now 18 residents remain, living in fear of what's to come. The rest have moved into homes with their families or even a motel room.

Drumlin Hills was originally built for seniors by Atlantic Baptist Housing more than 20 years ago, but the cost of maintaining the building it became too high for the non-profit, charitable organization, explained Kenny. Rosedale Investments Ltd. of Halifax bought it earlier this year and announced major changes to the building's operation about three months ago, including a rent hike and reduced services .

This came as a major shock for residents who moved in thinking it was a secure place to spend their old age.

"He's removing the services," said Kenny.

Beth Wood, is a concerned community member and part of an ad-hoc group with the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada that is trying to find a solution for the seniors.

"...They're all being isolated, eating by themselves out of a bag in their little apartments and I've been told that, like, the depression levels among them are terrible," said Wood.

Brian MacKay/CBC
Brian MacKay/CBC

'I can't live in this building any longer'

David George Bryant, 90, lived in Drumlin Hills for the last 10 years and was able to visit his wife in a nearby long-term care home.

His lease covered three meals a day. But last week the building's new management began wrapping breakfast in a paper bag in the evening for residents to eat in their rooms the next morning.

"I refuse to accept it," said Bryant with his eyes tearing up while standing between his packed belongings.

"I can't live in this building any longer."

His new living space is a medium-sized room and is farther from his wife. He is throwing away many of his belongings, which include a life's worth of photographs and artwork he's cherished since he was a little boy. His new space will not have meals served, will not have a pull chord to call for emergency assistance or the library he enjoys.

Brian MacKay/CBC
Brian MacKay/CBC

It will be much lonelier, but he says it's better than living under the stress he's currently feeling.

"Someday there's going to be another regulation brought in and it'll be like living underneath an axe in somebody's hand, driving me into the ground," said Bryant.

Julia Smith, who lives in one of the building's 72 independent units, is worried about her friends in the assisted-living units who were formerly well looked after. They planned on living there for the rest of their lives.

"It's no longer a happy place to live," said Smith.

Legal action

Members of the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada have joined forces with the community to take legal action.

The group filed 13 applications to the director of residential tenancies on behalf of residents at Drumlin Hills. Wood says she served the papers to the building's owner, Joseph C. Arab, on Monday.

"Some of them do not think clearly anymore," said Wood about the tenants she's representing.

"Two of them are blind. Two of them are over 100."

The group is worried that tenancy hearings will not take place until December and time is running out.

Brian MacKay/CBC
Brian MacKay/CBC

How did this happen?

Kenny said the term "enriched living" was never defined in the original agreement between  Atlantic Baptist Housing and the Town of Bridgewater, leaving it open to interpretation by the new owner of the building.

Atlantic Baptist Housing sold the building about fours years ago because rising construction costs meant it could no longer afford to properly maintain it. The second owner kept all the senior services in place for three years, said Kenny. When it went up for sale again, no one expected the new  buyer to change its purpose from providing care for seniors.

Brian MacKay/CBC
Brian MacKay/CBC

"We couldn't understand how this could happen," said Kenny.

"I guess there are loopholes that businessmen will look for."

He said at the very least, seniors housing should have better protections in place so what happened at Drumlin Hills should never repeat itself.

Wood said none of the seniors or members of the church have been able to talk to Arab. They see him around the building occasionally, but he won't speak to the seniors directly.

Arab did not respond to CBC News's request for comment.

Speaking in the Nova Scotia Legislature on Tuesday, NDP MLA Gary Burrill asked Colton LeBlanc, the minister of Internal Services, if he would ensure the tenancy hearings take place before seniors are cut off from services at the end of the month. LeBlanc said they would have to apply to the director of the residential tenancy because the building is a residential property.

Barbara Adams, minister of Seniors and Long-term Care, said her department released funds to the Town of Bridgewater to help with services and meals at Drumlin Hills as soon as it heard about the situation months ago.

Kenny says he urges Arab to hear the plight of the seniors and, at the very least, delay the changes in service so they can look for a place to move.