'If We Left, They Wouldn't Have Nobody'

Nov 21, 2014
Originally published on November 21, 2014 12:46 pm

When an assisted living home in California shut down last fall, many of its residents were left behind, with nowhere to go.

The staff at the Valley Springs Manor left when they stopped getting paid — except for cook Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez, the janitor.

"There was about 16 residents left behind, and we had a conversation in the kitchen, 'What are we going to do?' " Rowland says.

"If we left, they wouldn't have nobody," the 34-year-old Alvarez says.

Their roles quickly transformed for the elderly residents, who needed round-the-clock care.

"I would only go home for one hour, take a shower, get dressed, then be there for 24-hour days," says Alvarez.

Rowland, 35, remembers passing out medications during those long days. He says he didn't want to leave the residents — some coping with dementia — to fend for themselves.

"I just couldn't see myself going home — next thing you know, they're in the kitchen trying to cook their own food and burn the place down," Rowland says. "Even though they wasn't our family, they were kind of like our family for this short period of time."

For Alvarez, the situation brought back memories from his childhood.

"My parents, when they were younger, they left me abandoned," he says. "Knowing how they are going to feel, I didn't want them to go through that."

Alvarez and Rowland spent several days caring for the elderly residents of Valley Springs Manor until the fire department and sheriff took over.

The incident led to legislation in California known as the Residential Care for the Elderly Reform Act of 2014.

"If I would've left, I think that would have been on my conscience for a very long time," says Rowland.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday morning which is when we hear from StoryCorps celebrating the lives of everyday people and hearing their stories. Today, Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez - they work together at Valley Springs Manor, which is an assisted living home in California, or rather it was. Maurice was a cook, Miguel a janitor. And last fall, the company that managed the home abruptly shut it down, leaving many of the elderly residents with nowhere to go. The staff stopped being paid, and they all left except for Maurice and Miguel. At StoryCorps, they talked about three days in which they cared for abandoned residents alone. Here's Maurice.

MAURICE ROWLAND: There was about 16 residents left behind. And we had a conversation in the kitchen - what are we going to do?

MIGUEL ALVAREZ: If we left, they wouldn't had nobody. We were just the cook and the janitor. But I was cleaning people up, helping them take a bath.

ROWLAND: I was passing out meds. My original position was the cook. But we had like people that had dementia. I just couldn't see myself going home. Next thing you know, they're in the kitchen trying to cook their own food and burn the place down, you know what I mean?

ALVAREZ: I will only go home for one hour, take a shower, get dressed, then be there for 24 hour days.

ROWLAND: There were people up - three in the morning - walking around and...

ALVAREZ: Yeah, you couldn't go to sleep. I'd bring movies from my house. Let's watch this at three, four in the morning. Then they'll go to sleep.

ROWLAND: Even though they wasn't our family, they were kind of like our family for the short period of time.

ALVAREZ: You know, you feel sad but you don't want to show them you're feeling like that, you know? My parents, when they was younger, they left me abandoned. And knowing how they going to feel, I didn't want them to go through that.

ROWLAND: I think you're pretty strong for sticking in there.

ALVAREZ: You too, Maurice.

ROWLAND: If I would've left, I think that would've been on my conscious for a very long time.

INSKEEP: Maurice Rowland with Miguel Alvarez at StoryCorps in Hayward, California. They cared for elderly residents of Valley Springs Manor until the fire department and the sheriff could come to take over. The incident led to the legislation in California known as the Residential Care for the Elderly Reform Act of 2014, which protects residents from being abandoned after a shutdown. This conversation is archived by the Library of Congress and you can get the StoryCorps podcast on iTunes as well as at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.