My name is Donna Leonard and I reside in the assisted living community at Flagstone in The Dalles. I celebrated my 87th birthday Oct. 5, from my second story window, with my daughter outside, adhering to the safety guidelines set forth by the facility

Two days later, on Oct. 7, our dedicated Executive Director (ED) of 5 years was unprofessionally terminated and publicly escorted from the building without warning.

This was a genuinely great place to live until then. Even with the tough safety restrictions employed to minimize COVID-19 risk, I and other residents were cared for like family.

It was not until Nov. 24 that I received any communication from the new ED, who knocked on my door and said, bluntly, without introduction, “I hear you wanted to speak with me.” I responded by introducing myself and said I simply thought we would have heard something from you by now. She stated she has been busy, in training, and had been sick. She never asked a single question or expressed any interest in my welfare, and abruptly departed.

During this critical time of navigating COVID-19 cases among both residents and staff, and significant loss of life in the memory care unit, I do not understand why the parent company, Milestone, chose to leave us without leadership, fire dedicated staff members, and then expect overworked caregivers and med aids to endure excessively long hours without adequate resources.

Additional cases of COVID-19 forced dining room staff into quarantine, further burdening caregivers with the added responsibility of delivering meals to resident’s rooms and returning dish trays to the kitchen. Med aids have been required to implement more time-consuming procedures for medicine distribution, causing delays for a period of time in us receiving our often thrice daily prescriptions. We went without housekeeping while understaffed. For well over a month, there were no exercise programs being administered in the hallways with 6-foot distancing, Bingo or other on site social activities.

Group exercise classes recently resumed in a designated room; however, many residents don’t feel safe attending due to the need to use elevators and navigate hallways where mask wearing and distancing guidelines are not always followed by certain residents. There simply is not adequate staff to monitor. In fact, the ratio of caregivers and med aids to residents is not sufficient to allow staff to perform their fundamental core duties and teeters on borderline levels of compliance with state law. As of today, eight members of the care team, in assisted living alone, have departed or will be gone by Christmas. A new hire in the kitchen is being trained to be a caregiver. The few that remain are now required to work 12 hour shifts.

There has been such a mass exodus of employees since the firing of the longest tenured executive director in Flagstone’s 29-year history, that many leadership positions are vacant. Most recently, this includes the resignation of a highly regarded 27-year veteran who held the position of resident care director. The director of health and wellness also put in her resignation, as did the lead med tech who had accrued 11 years of indispensable experience. The dining room supervisor resigned, as did the hairdresser, whom residents have turned to for a beauty boost for 20 years!

On Dec. 19, open positions posted online for Flagstone in The Dalles included director of nursing, director of health and wellness, staff nurse, marketing outreach coordinator, maintenance technician and multiple openings for essential caregivers and med aids.

My daughter Christina, who moved me to this highly respected facility, is growing concerned for my welfare. In the absence of visitation privileges, she found some reassurance in knowing dedicated staff were filling the void of isolation through their compassion, genuine caregiving, and daily doses of kindness.

There is significant research validating the critical importance of human connection, particularly among the elderly, to maintain emotional, physical, and mental health. Spending time with others reduces risk of depression, cognitive decline, and disease.

But now, the working environment and our living environment is direly compromised, and the once positive spirit of Flagstone feels more like a correctional facility.

Employees are not treated with respect, are tasked with more and more demands while many earn little more than minimum wage, are either quitting in record numbers or fearful of being fired, and are unable to adequately tend to residents, causing them even more duress. Overall, we, the residents, do not hold them responsible for this mayhem and our hearts go out to them.

Why do these big companies think they know what is best for us? I am very unhappy with how things were handled by corporate and I would like to know why.

Do you remember the song “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford? Its final lyric says, “I owe my soul to the company store.” Where we once felt like real people, and part of a community, we now witness the staff being treated as a commodity, and we the residents, as invisible and unimportant elders, subject to the enforcements of the corporate machine.

Just days away from Christmas, my greatest fear has become reality. Veteran staff members, who honorably followed the 2-to-4-week notice clause of their respective positions, were prohibited from fulfilling their final days without notice. Isolated from our families for over nine months now, the only real contact we have is with staff and our beloved caregivers who have touched our lives. Once again, as was true with our respected executive director of five years, neither the dedicated staff persons, nor residents were given the common courtesy and dignity to say thank you, we will miss you, we are sorry conditions deteriorated to the point you needed to leave.

I honestly don’t know if I will ever feel secure, cared for, or really at home here again. The unwarranted actions taken by corporate in the middle of a pandemic have wreaked havoc on what was a well-functioning team and spiraled into a work climate that was counterproductive and demoralizing. With C0VID-19 cases skyrocketing, now what will they do to replace key leaders and the many skilled, compassionate caregivers we relied on?

Residents and their families may be faced with searching for alternatives if Milestone cannot steer the ship toward a healthy recovery. It is my deepest hope that corporate will choose to correct course and restore its commitment to providing residents “peace of mind, caring, compassion, empathy, respect and dignity.” In my humble opinion, this cannot be achieved if the staff are not afforded dignity and respect as well.

It is important that the outpouring of continued feedback reaches the agencies with oversight of senior living facilities. Please report any concerns for loved ones residing in care centers to the Department of Human Services (DHS) office for The Gorge at 541-298-4114 and/or Community Based Care (CBC) in Salem at 503- 373-2227.

Donna Leonard, The Dalles, Flagstone resident

Christina LaFever, Hood River, daughter and POA

Editor's note: Due to the nature of the allegations, Milestone was offered an opportunity to respond to the allegation of staffing shortages at The Dalles facility. Their response can be found in the Dec. 23 Your Voice column.

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