By John Herrick, Boulder Reporting Lab (AP Storyshare)
The 33 residents living in the Mezzanine have until March 4 to move out, according to the nonprofit. Some are looking outside of Boulder for a place they can afford.
Golden West, a Boulder-based nonprofit organization that provides affordable housing to older adults, announced last week it is closing its assisted living facility, citing financial reasons. The closure takes effect March 4.
The sudden decision to close the Mezzanine, located at 1055 Adams Circle, was made by the organization’s board of directors and announced during a meeting with staff and residents on Jan. 4. In a letter to residents, the organization said the facility was “no longer financially sustainable.”
It has left evicted residents and their families scrambling to find affordable alternatives in time. They were given a list of other private facilities, most of which are outside of Boulder. The paperwork to secure a bed in a similar location could take months.
“I’m in a state of dismay,” Daniel Wentworth, a 67-year-old Army veteran who moved into the assisted living center about a year ago, said in an interview. “It took me more than 60 days to go through the process and paperwork to get a space here.”
Assisted living facilities are an alternative to nursing homes for people who need less medical support. Caregivers at the Mezzanine provide residents with meals, monitor their medication, and do laundry and housekeeping, among other daily tasks.
The closure of the Mezzanine will exacerbate the dearth of housing options for low-income older adults living in Boulder. The Mezzanine, which has 54 beds, is the last assisted living facility in Boulder that accepts Medicaid. (In the City of Boulder, there are nine assisted living centers, according to the state. Without Medicaid subsidies, the cost of an assisted living studio is at least $5,000 per month.)
Golden West is not planning to close any of its 253 income-restricted independent living apartments, known as the Towers. The organization said it will discontinue its dining program, which provides meals to residents at the Towers and the Mezzanine.
“It was gut-wrenching,” John Torres, the nonprofit’s interim chief executive officer, told Boulder Reporting Lab of the decision. “Our mission was to serve low-income people.”
Of its 33 residents, 29 rely on Medicaid, according to Torres. All are at least 62 years old. Many have underlying health conditions. Some have lived at the Mezzanine for a decade or more.
“It’s the middle of winter and there’s not much available,” Wentworth said. “We’re gonna have to move to Fort Collins or Denver or Loveland. We’re going to have to expand our search well outside of Boulder.”
Wentworth, who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, said he wants to stay in Boulder. His family lives here. So does his caregiver. He said the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, where he receives treatment, is about 10 minutes away.
Other assisted living facilities, if they accept Medicaid, may have waiting lists. State regulations governing admission to assisted living facilities require physical and mental exams. The process can take months.
Torres said the nonprofit is providing people $750 to help with the transition. Some staff members are helping tenants navigate the move. They can apply to live in Golden West’s independent living apartments, which are about 94% full, according to Torres.
Torres said the decision to give residents two months to move out was based in part on what, he said, Eaton Senior Communities did when it closed its Medicaid certified assisted living residence in Lakewood. State law requires a 30-day notice.
“If we have folks who are not able to meet that, we’re not going to put them out on the street,” Torres said. “We will work with them.”
‘A perfect storm’
The closure of the Mezzanine comes after Covid-19 rattled the long-term care industry. The facility reported six separate Covid-19 outbreaks to the state health department since 2020. At least one person died with the disease, according to the state data. Earlier in the pandemic, Gov. Jared Polis signed a public health order restricting visits.
The fallout from the pandemic and public health measures resulted in fewer people living in long-term care facilities, which for years have struggled to stay open.
The Mezzanine is operating at about 60% occupancy, according to Torres. The organization has struggled to increase that rate, in part due to a multi-year, nearly $25 million renovation project, Torres said.
Meanwhile, the cost of labor has been on the rise and Medicaid reimbursement rates are insufficient to cover expenses, Torres added. (Torres said he has lobbied Colorado lawmakers to set higher Medicaid reimbursement rates.)
To help fill up bed space, the nonprofit launched a public relations campaign to attract residents. A sponsored post in November 2022 in the Daily Camera dubbed Golden West as one of “the most affordable senior living options in Boulder — a timely lifeline this year especially as housing and living expenses have surged.” But the campaign didn’t work.
“It was sort of a perfect storm,” Torres said. “We ran out of time.”
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.
Golden West was founded in 1965 with the purpose of providing affordable housing to older adults.
“It’s going to be a huge gap in the community,” Torres said of the closure. “We have always been so proud to be able to fill that gap.”
Last year, two other Medicaid certified assisted living facilities in Boulder closed: the Mary Sandoe House, a 24-bed facility in South Boulder, and Shawnee Gardens, a seven-bed facility in Boulder. Brookdale Boulder Creek, a 90-bed facility in Boulder, recently stopped accepting Medicaid patients, according to the county.
Boulder Reporting Lab requested a comment from the Boulder County long-term care ombudsperson, who advocates for older adults. In response, Alice Kim, a spokesperson for Boulder County Community Services, said Golden West is “a staple in the community.”
“Unfortunately, Boulder County does not have much of a role in this since it is a business decision,” Kim wrote in an email. “We know those who cannot live independently would likely need support or to look into nursing home options, which are more expensive and less comfortable for residents. We encourage folks to reach out to their [state] representatives to express concerns around affordable assisted living options in Colorado.”
Adults over the age of 65 are among the fastest growing age group in Boulder County, according to the U.S. Census. As baby boomers age, that demographic is expected to continue growing over the next decade, according to the state demographer.
“Eventually, everybody passes through this,” Wentworth said. “Being able to ensure that those who follow us have a place to go is important.”