The management company told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution it has tried to mitigate the inherent stress and uncertainty experienced by residents and staff with “timely, robust and transparent” communication about the facts. Still, the financial situation has shaken many residents.
“It’s very unsettling,” Twiggs said. “We thought this would be our last move to this campus. Now, we don’t know.”
The struggles at Silver Comet are part of a trend across the country. Over the past decade, investors poured money into senior care facilities, creating a building boom as they tried to cash in on America’s aging population.
Few markets have suffered more than Atlanta. Its occupancy rates for senior independent living and assisted living homes are among the nation’s lowest.
The pandemic has only compounded those pressures, and residents are starting to feel the pain.
Earlier this month, residents at Tranquil Gardens Assisted Living & Memory Care home in Cherokee County were kicked out of the facility with just a few days’ notice. The owner said it was closing after less than three years in business due to financial problems.
That set off a mad scramble by residents and their families to try to locate other facilities that could house and care for them. At least one resident, Jon Fisher, who has dementia, hasn’t transitioned well and was moved to a hospital a week after he was forced to move to a new care home.
“The change was just too much for him,” said Tim Fisher, his brother.
Back in January, Provident Village at Canton, an assisted living and memory care facility which opened in 2016, defaulted on interest payments due on its $17.5 million in revenue bonds issued by the city’s housing authority. That resulted in the facility being placed into receivership, and in May it was auctioned for $11.4 million. Residents continued to live at the struggling facility during the turmoil, though apparently almost half of the beds are empty, according to facility reports filed with the state. The home is now owned by a private equity firm and operates under a new name, The Landings at Canton Hills.
Also in default is Provident Village at Creekside, a Smyrna assisted living facility that received about $23 million in bond financing through the Development Authority of Cobb County in 2016, according to a public notice of nonpayment. At times this past spring, state reports show the facility had 48 residents, while it is licensed for 129.
“Creekside Village continues to work with the trustee bank to address the nonpayment,” said Steve Hicks, chairman and CEO of Provident Resources Group Inc., a partner in the facility’s ownership group.
The intense competition to attract residents means operators have tried to distinguish their properties with expensive, eye-catching amenities. At Silver Comet, the facility’s website touts the assisted living facility’s two-story lobby with grand staircase, a fine dining room with a fireplace and a large covered patio. The building has two baby grand pianos, though they sit silent.
These and other features were funded by $37 million in revenue bonds issued through the Powder Springs Development Authority in June 2017. But the project was hampered by construction delays and cost overruns that sank the original plan to have all wings in the facility open and operational in 2019.
Robert Lubin, the controlling partner in PS Living, LLC, which owns Silver Comet Village, said the pandemic made the challenges even worse. Still, he said, the facility was hoping to have the assisted living/memory care building open by August, but the foreclosure notice from bondholders upended that plan. He is still hoping for a last minute restructuring deal to avert Tuesday’s scheduled auction at the Cobb courthouse.
“We’re still negotiating to try to avoid foreclosure,” he said. “Under no circumstances will the facility close.”
Lubin also had a tie to the Provident Village projects through his investment firm American Investor Immigration Funds, LLC and its affiliated partnerships. The Herndon, Virginia-based firm specializes in EB-5 investments, a federal program that helps provide permanent residency cards to foreign investors in exchange for their money.
Both Silver Comet Village and the Provident projects received some foreign investments through the program. Provident Village at Canton utilized at least $2.3 million in EB-5 funding, while Provident Village at Creekside received about $4.6 million, according to the bond offering statements. Silver Comet Village received $9.5 million in EB-5 foreign investment funds, according to the American Investor Immigration Fund website.
Despite the headwinds facing upscale senior living facilities, the majority bondholder in the Silver Comet project said it has the ingredients to succeed.
George Rieger, chairman of Greenwich Investment Management, whose Stamford, Connecticut-based firm owns the vast majority of the bonds, told the AJC his firm has the cash to keep the facility operating and is committed to ensuring residents receive the care they deserve.
He said it stands ready to bring in a new manager if Lubin’s firm can’t perform.
“Our goal is to make the facility a success,” he said.
Silver Comet resident Ann Vermilya hopes the owners and investors make right on such assurances. She said it’s been challenging to get straight answers, and the financial uncertainty has taken a toll. Some residents are frail and in their 80s and 90s. She said she loves the facility, and the sooner the financial issues are resolved, the better.
“A lot of people are very uneasy,” she said. “Some of these people don’t have anybody. They’ve outlived their children.”
Since 2019, the AJC has been examining Georgia’s senior care industry that thousands of Georgians rely on for care. We reported how a gold rush mentality overtook the senior housing industry in metro Atlanta in the past decade as investors tried to cash in on the aging population. That created financial stress on facilities as the market became overbuilt. This story draws on bond documents, public records and interviews.