Feds Accuse Retirement Community of Bias

     NORFOLK, Va. (CN) – The Fort Norfolk Retirement Community in Virginia violated the Fair Housing Act by failing to afford all of its disabled residents equal access to facilities, sponsored events and motorized wheelchair usage, the federal government says.
     In a complaint filed in the Norfolk Federal Court on May 11, the Justice Department says the community, which is also known as Harbor’s Edge, is divided into two types of living facilities.
     Independent living units are for those who need no assisted living and reside in a 17-story building called “Residential Tower.” The assisted living, nursing and memory support residents live in a four-story building called the “Healthcare Building.” The Residential Tower and Healthcare Building are connected by an interior corridor on the first floor.
     The Residential Tower has four dining areas available to the public as well as residents. The Healthcare Building has several dining rooms as well. The assisted living unit has two dining rooms, and the nursing and memory support unit each have one dining room.
     Harbor’s Edge also hosts community events for residents and members of the public as marketing tools, including, for example, a party for the July 4th holiday.
     Prior to May 2011 all residents of the Healthcare Building were permitted to eat at dining rooms located in the Residential Tower and attend events with the residents of the Residential Tower and members of the public.
     But beginning in May 2011 and continuing to the present, he government say, Harbor’s Edge has adopted a series of policies that prohibit, and then limited, residents living in the Healthcare Building from eating at dining rooms located in the Residential Tower and attending events with residents of the Residential Tower and the public.
     Harbor’s Edge adopted these policies because they wanted to market its facilities as a place for “younger seniors” who wanted an active lifestyle, the government says.
     Because of these policy changes, the complaint says, spouses and friends who had dined and attended events together were no longer able to do so in the independent living areas.
     On or about March 5, 2012, after several other dining and event policy revisions, Harbor’s Edge again revised its policy allowing all residents of the Healthcare Building to dine in the independent living dining rooms with independent living residents in the Residential Tower if they passed a health screening, obtained a physician’s consent and signed a release of liability. The March 2012 policy prohibited all residents living in the Healthcare Building from attending any events designed by Harbor’s Edge as marketing events.
     After the adoption of the dining room policies, residents and their families voiced opposition through letters to Harbor’s Edge management and Board of Directors, met with the Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and circulated a petition to the Board of Directors asking that the policies be rescinded.
     The Justice Department says Harbor’s Edge management responded by threatening to sue residents and their family members who complained about the dining and event policy changes.
     Beginning in about 2006 and continuing at least until April 2013, Harbor’s Edge maintained a policy requiring any resident who used a motorized wheelchair or scooter to obtain prior approval from Harbor’s Edge Staff, obtain liability insurance and pay a $300 non-refundable deposit before using their mobility aids on community property.
     Attorneys for harbor’s Edge and the Justice Department were unavailable for comment.

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