CARLTON FLETCHER: Fear, uncertainty face Seasons Christian's senior citizen residents

OPINION: Retirement center files for bankruptcy protection, residents left in limbo

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

You can have it all, My empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make you hurt.

Johny Cash/Nine Inch Nails

There are times in this business when you feel helpless as you watch good people who deserve better have their worlds upended.

That’s the case today as I sit here thinking about the senior citizens who used their life savings to buy into a dream at the Seasons Christian Care retirement center and now face uncertain financial futures, their dreams turned into a horrifying nightmare. After years of bickering with the management of Lamad Ministries, which owns the Ledo Road facility, residents at Seasons Christian were told at a Monday meeting called by attorney Walter Kelley that Lamad Ministries planned to file for Chapet 11 bankruptcy protection.

Fear was palpable in the Grand Island Golf Club’s meeting room, where more than 140 Seasons Christian residents and members of their families came to learn more about what lay ahead. There were cries of “Praise Jesus!” when Kelly opened his presentation by assuring the residents none would be “put out on the streets after 90 days,” dispelling one of the many rumors that were circulating in the room.

Sadly, though, there would be no such assurances when residents started asking specific questions about their individual agreements with Seasons Christian. Most in the room gasped when Kelley confirmed one’s darkest fears: “You mean I paid $130,000 for my unit nine years ago and have paid more than $50,000 in maintenance fees and I may come away with nothing?”

And tears flowed as another resident was told she may never recover the $80,000 payment and $60,000 loan she’d forked out to the ministry.

The only hope, Kelley told the stunned residents, is that marketing efforts for Lamad Ministries’ estimated $12.5 million in holdings are successful and an investor buys them at a price substantially more than the $2.5 million in secured debt owed by the ministry.

“That money would go into a pot,” Kelley said, “and after the secured debts and fees are paid off, you would each get a pro rata share of the money in the pot.”

When one obviously disheartened attendee commented, “at pennies on the dollar,” Kelley reminded the residents that if Colony Bank foreclosed to collect the $2.4 million it was owed by Lamad Ministries, the residents would get nothing.

A pitched battle between Lamad management and Seasons Christian residents has been raging for years, the two sides facing off in Dougherty County courtrooms on a number of occasions. One of the most outspoken critics of Seasons Christian management, World War II veteran Sam Spivey, was arrested for trespassing at the facility in July of 2007, and in December of that same year dispossessory action was taken against the then-82-year-old Spivey.

Seasons Christian officials said Spivey, who organized a number of resident meetings to discuss possible legal action after Seasons Christian management raised maintenance fees from $200 per month to $400 in 2006, owed $5,400 in back maintenance fees when it took the action to have Spivey removed from his residence.

Kelley did acknowledge that unpaid maintenance fees by a number of residents was a contributing factor to Lamad’s financial woes. The ministry was, according to Kelley, “at least five months behind” on a monthly $18,000 loan payment when it filed for bankruptcy protection.

Certainly the residents at Seasons Christian reached agreements with the facility’s management with eyes wide open. They may not have clearly understood the intricacies of the agreements they signed — many still don’t — yet valid contracts do exist. But anyone who has even remotely followed this sad saga that is now in its eighth year has to know that the uncertainty the residents now face is not what they signed up for.

Kelley assured me when we talked about the future of the Seasons Christian residents that he intends to do everything in his power to help them. I personally am relieved — and some residents told me after Monday’s meeting that they are, too — knowing Kelley is fighting for them. They’d be hard-pressed to find a better advocate.

But what concerns me as I remember the faces of some of those scared senior citizens Monday is that they’re having to face this ordeal in the first place. If it’s fate, pure and simple, that brought them to this point, we’re not wrong to damn her cruelty. But if it turns out there are individuals or institutions involved who conspired to so wrongly treat these people, we can only hope Walter Kelley is able to work some of his legal magic on the residents’ behalf.

And we can hope those individuals and institutions get their just rewards, as well.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.