Kim Szarmach

A group of housing rights activist joined D.C. Tenants Advocacy Coalition (TENAC) outside Sidwell Friends School on July 29 to demand that Washington Home and Hospice, a local rehabilitation center for the elderly and chronically ill, value “dignity over dollars.” In December of 2016, Washington Home will be sold to Sidwell Friends for $35 million, displacing over 200 aging and disabled patients, according to TENAC chairman Jim McGrath.

“Eviction at any time is a terrible thing,” McGrath said in an interview. “But when you’re old, disabled and poor, it’s a tragic event.”

Some of Washington Home’s residents have been placed at other facilities in D.C., but many of them do not know where they will go in December.

Full time medical care for the elderly can cost up to $110,000 a year, so it’s impossible for most people to afford without Medicaid, according to Mary Mason, Co-Chair of the Washington Home family council. Because Medicaid can be slow in paying for services, many D.C. facilities won’t accept it. The quality of life provided at the facilities that are accessible to Medicaid enrollees is not comparable to that of the Washington Home.

“These are elderly, fragile people and those facilities are not appropriate for them,” Mason said.

The family council requested that patients and their loved ones be given six more months to find placement after the sale — but Washington Home refused, according to Mason.

Washington Home has 10 percent of all the long-term care beds in the city. It is also one of D.C.’s only hospice care centers. Elsie Carome is a survivor of brain cancer who was at the protest. She said it is important to her that Washington Home remains open because during her battle with cancer she thought of it as a comforting place she could go at the end of her life.

Though the sale is a done deal, the UDC Housing and Consumer Law Clinic is suing Washington Home for violation of rights under D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA). TOPA guarantees tenants the right to organize and collectively purchase their building before it can be sold to another buyer. Washington Home did not give its residents this option.

“We’re optimistic about [this case],” said Jessica Galvan, one of the attorney’s on the case. “We’re fighting every day for this.”

Linda Richard, a senior at the rally, is fighting the same fight as the UDC lawyers. A friend of hers was able to move to another facility once he heard about the sale. That friend, Charles Cassell, is a veteran and the grandfather of the D.C. Statehood Movement. He was forced out of his home at 85.

“The senior population has paid their dues,” Richard said. “We should be comfortable.”