A DeLand assisted-living facility for people with mental illnesses shut its doors abruptly Aug. 13, after its license to operate expired, leaving dozens of people scrambling to find other accommodations.
The Dixie Lodge Assisted Living Facility at 647 S. Woodland Blvd., a 77-bed facility, has been in a legal battle with the state Agency for Health Care Administration for several years.
The expiration of Dixie Lodge’s license comes after AHCA issued a final order July 12 denying a change of ownership application for the facility.
Residents were informed Aug. 13 that “due to facility standards,” AHCA has denied licensure to the ALF. The notice stated residents must leave “immediately.”
A notice on the door of the facility’s office from its management said as much.
“Due to facility standards, AHCA has denied licensing,” it read. “Although there are motions in place to appeal this decision, all residents must find placement immediately.”
An AHCA spokeswoman said Dixie Lodge’s license was extended 30 days past the July 12 final order, and the agency is working to help find its residents places to go.
“The license was extended for 30 days for the purpose of allowing the safe and orderly discharge of the facility residents,” said Shelisha Coleman, press secretary for AHCA. “We are working with our partners at the Long-Term Care Ombudsman and Florida Department of Children and Families to relocate residents.”
MILA ALF, LLC, a company founded in July 2014 with its principal address listed in Sunny Isles Beach, purchased Dixie Lodge for $2.3 million in July 2015, from former owner Nella, LLC.
Jack Mila, who identified himself as an owner of the facility, threw up his hands in frustration when interviewed Tuesday.
“Nah, I’m through with AHCA,” he said.
The new owners filed a change of ownership application. State officials did an inspection of the facility in September 2015 — a “CHOW survey,” or change-of-ownership survey — and cited Dixie Lodge for 21 deficiencies.
Among other issues identified in the survey, the inspectors said ALF employees failed to “have a general awareness of” two residents’ whereabouts. One resident went missing briefly and was returned to the facility by police, but there was no documentation of the incident, according to the inspection report.
MILA ALF, LLC disagreed with the findings, and requested a hearing before an administrative-law judge. A hearing was held before a state Division of Administrative Hearings judge Jan. 29-30 of this year.
Yolonda Green, the administrative-law judge in the case, disagreed that Dixie Lodge demonstrated a “pattern of deficiencies.” In fact, she found that one incident AHCA used as grounds to deny MILA ALF, LLC a license happened under the facility’s previous owners.
In May, she issued a recommended order in the case, recommending that AHCA rescind its denial of MILA ALF, LLC’s change of ownership application.
“Dixie Lodge demonstrated a significant negative impact on residents should Dixie Lodge close its doors. Considering the population it serves, the relatively minor nature of the Class II violation proven … the potential negative impact on residents would be far too great to warrant denial of the [change of ownership] application.”
However, a recommended order isn’t entirely binding. A state agency can “reject or modify the conclusions of law” it has substantive jurisdiction over, and in a final order issued July 12, AHCA opted to deny the change of ownership.
“The Agency still has the discretion to deny its change of ownership application since Dixie Lodge failed to meet certain minimum requirements during the provisional licensure process,” the final order reads in part.
The denial effectively resulted in the expiration of Dixie Lodge’s license, forcing it to close down.
The closure left many of the Lodge’s residents uncertain about their future.
Kevin McNally and Joby Ogden were roommates at the 34-room motel-turned-care-facility, which served people existing on Social Security and Medicaid.
Neither man knows what the future holds.
“I’m nervous,” McNally said, holding up an application packet from Hugh Ash Manor.
McNally, who will be 62 in October, has resided at Dixie Lodge for several years. He said he can’t remember exactly how many.
Ogden, a 13-year resident, said he might go to a “nursing home” in DeLand or in New Smyrna Beach, where his daughter lives.
“I hate nursing homes,” Ogden said.
Sean O’Hearn said he considers himself fortunate to be 65. Being over 62 increases his range of choices.
“I’m hoping to go back to St. Augustine,” said O’Hearn, who added he “got bounced around” and wound up at Dixie Lodge after a facility he called home in the “oldest city” was condemned due to flooding from Hurricane Matthew.
“I’ve been here for one year and five months,” he said.
If he can’t go back to St. Augustine, O’Hearn said, he’s considering other options in DeLand, including rent-subsidized College Arms Towers.
He will miss the people at Dixie Lodge.
“Everybody here, they’re pretty good people,” he said. “They had it all worked out pretty well. It’s just terrible [that] the place closes down.”
McNally said he has been paying $724 monthly for his shared room.
O’Hearn said the monthly rental fee includes three meals daily, housekeeping and laundry services.
He said the owner recently installed a generator to comply with a state mandate that followed the deaths of residents last year in a South Florida ALF during a power outage caused by Hurricane Irma.
O’Hearn also had rave reviews for Lodge staff members, including Shay Woods, a medical technician who said she’s weighing her future employment options.
“All the people that work here, they should hire them quick,” he said, referring to other similar facilities in the area. “They handle these people real good, and they’re half [many of the residents’] age.”
Woods was touched to the brink of tears by O’Hearn’s assessment.
“I call him Santa Claus,” Woods said. “I have nicknames for all of them.”
Her displaced charges will be just fine, Woods said.
“The residents are going to good homes with better structure and better environment,” she said. “They stay here, and they’re doing the same thing. Now, they find something new with better structure.”