The Ridgewood Retirement Community is again under the city’s microscope, and once again, the few elderly clients left at the decaying facility are caught in the middle.
As previously reported by The Examiner in May, during health inspections by the city’s health department, officials found the kitchen, pool and other amenities to be completely unsanitary and unsafe, prompting a letter to the owner of Ridgewood — Samuel Pinter of New York — that addressed the infractions.
According to health inspectors, Ridgewood had a kitchen that was “in very bad condition and very dirty. Coolers and refrigerators were not working properly and mold was found on the food left inside these coolers.”
The walk-in cooler was at 80 degrees and had spoiled food inside.
The inspectors found at least two kitchen employees were not certified to handle food. The city’s health department also cited Ridgewood for mold in numerous locations, especially near areas where a leaky roof has inundated parts of the facility.
Since the May inspection, Ridgewood has taken out permits and completed at least $8,000 worth of work on the kitchen, which has since been reopened.
But one former employee says that’s the least of Ridgewood’s worries.
“It’s clear cut what you’re supposed to do for the city, but he’s always trying to work around it,” Philip Copeland, a former maintenance worker at Ridgewood said of his former boss, Pinter.
For the past three months, Copeland said he was working closely with the city’s lead building code inspector, Boyd Meier, to address the city’s code concerns and to bring Ridgewood back up to speed. Copeland had taken out a permit with the city to Spackle, paint and complete woodwork and said he was excited about the opportunity to give the decaying facility a much-needed face lift.
But on the last day of his three-month mark, Pinter fired Copeland.
On Monday, Oct. 7, Copeland canceled the work order taken out under his name and the next day, the city placed a stop work order on Ridgewood’s door.
Copeland said he was fired for getting too close to city inspectors.
“We’d become friends and I’ve tried to do what he says because they’re the building police,” he said. “They can give me a ticket. I’ve been trying to stay on the straight and narrow with them.”
A walk-through of one man’s room might show the scope of the problem at Ridgewood.
“That door just sweats,” said 81-year-old Chester Fowler, pointing to a closet with visible mold inside. “My clothes were wet and everything else.”
For a normal, healthy adult, a little bit of mold might not affect one’s respiration and health over a short period of exposure, but for Fowler — an Army veteran with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) — the mold could represent a serious threat.
As the aging but congenial man spoke, he coughed several times as he stood next to an oxygen tank and two air conditioning units Ridgewood bought for his room.
Because the roof leaks in several places, wood rot is prevalent throughout the facility and areas of roof that weren’t properly patched or replaced are now crumbling. With a leaky roof comes moisture, and Fowler said his health has deteriorated.
“That’s probably what’s wrong with me,” Fowler said. “I had to cancel my trip to Oklahoma City.”
What’s more, Pinter and Ridgewood have not followed the city’s orders to stop work on the roof and are attempting to tar and gravel the spots without approval from the city.
“The roofing had to have a separate permit that they never pulled and were told to not work on that roof until they pulled one with a professional and they went out there and did it anyway,” Copeland said.
At first, Pinter was open to fixing the roof and received a bid from at least one contractor, Monument Roofing. But Copeland said it was the price to completely fix the roof to the city’s specifications that sent Pinter on a repair scheme of his own.
“They came out and looked at it and said, ‘We can’t patch it. It’s really bad.’ He said probably a quarter of the decking has to be changed because it’s warped. Because they haven’t roofed it, it’s rained on it and it’s going bad. They told me that it would cost $5 to $8 a square foot to fix it. About 40 to 45,000 square feet, that’s somewhere around $300,000 to $350,000. That’s why they were trying to go around the city. They just tried to go around the city and the city took these pictures and he just went up there and patched over it. They’re supposed to have a permit to do that work you saw, but he didn’t get a permit.”
Building code officials with the City of Beaumont did not return a call for comment.
Fowler said he’s tired of living under a moldy roof, but doesn’t have a whole lot of options when it comes to other living arrangements. If the food wasn’t so terrible, Fowler said he’d love to stay at Ridgewood because he enjoys the quiet. He said his moldy closet shouldn’t be hard to fix, but some of his clothes will have to be replaced.
“I had a coat back there in the very back,” Fowler said. “I’m afraid to even get back there and look at it.”