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Unpaid janitor cares for unattended seniors after nursing home closes

Miguel Alvarez refused to abandon the residents after chaos struck the home
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Chiara O. Scuri, November 3, 2013 6:58:50 AM

It’s no secret that the state of elder care across North America is abysmal. Sure, there are happy exceptions but some of the stories that have come out of so-called reputable (and expensive) nursing homes are enough to start a mini-revolution.

The truth is we tend to take very poor care of our elderly. So when the Valley Springs Manor home in Castro Valley, Calif. shut down in a state-ordered closure last week and lost its operating licence, we should be appalled but not surprised that staff just left their charges to fend for themselves.

Of course, when you’re in your 90s and ill and incapacitated that’s not really possible, is it? In fact, that’s probably the reason you’re in assisted living in the first place. So naturally, the residents were reduced to a state of chaos and suffering that broke the heart of Miguel Alvarez, the home’s 33-year-old janitor.

Alvarez stayed on with cook Maurice Rowland to look after the patients. They were the only staff who remained. But Alvarez isn’t a trained nurse or care worker and admitted he “didn’t know what he was doing.”

Thankfully, his smarts and compassion got him through a situation he described to the San Francisco Chronicle as a nightmare and “zombie-like” with residents yelling for help, disoriented because they weren’t getting their meds and some even trying to make a run for it.

Alvarez changed diapers, bathed the residents and even spoon fed the ones who couldn’t eat, providing as much comfort as one man in a home full of many could possibly do.

“I’d never want to see my parents or grandparents go through anything like that,” he told the paper. “I liked these people. I wanted to treat them well.”

Before the facility shut down, Alvarez made $8 an hour. Staff walked out after they had not been paid for two weeks prior. The owners and facility manager have since disappeared.

After nearly a week of his heroic efforts, authorities came in to rescue the patients. What took them so long in the first place is an entirely different matter.

Meanwhile, Alvarez and Rowland are humbly playing down their actions, focusing instead on their desire to find an elderly man who escaped under their watch.

It’s not often we see villains and heroes as clearly defined as in this story. But with people like Alvarez around, the world seems a little less bleak.


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Chiara O. Scuri

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