Paula Berman, 73, and her boyfriend, Pasquale Tavolacci, 90, are...

Paula Berman, 73, and her boyfriend, Pasquale Tavolacci, 90, are both residents at Braemar assisted living facility. Berman is concerned that the facility is planning to remove landlines from their rooms. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Residents of a Medford assisted living facility are protesting plans to remove telephones from their rooms, saying their landlines are a lifeline to their families and loved ones.

Taking away the phones raises safety concerns for the residents, all of them older adults and some of them struggling with dementia and other cognitive impairments.

Residents and family members, speaking at a news conference Monday outside Braemar at Medford, said the facility's officials told them the landlines would be removed on Jan. 1. They added Braemar told them seven landline phones would be available in the library for the facility's 200 residents.

The reasons for removing room phones were unclear. Braemar officials did not return phone and email messages seeking comment. 

Paula Berman, 73, who has lived at Braemar since December, said Braemar offered cellphones to those who need them. 

"They won’t know how to use them," Berman said, referring to residents with disabilities. "They don’t know how to find their rooms.”

Her boyfriend, Pasquale Tavolacci, 90, said he worries his relatives won't be able to reach him.

“[When] they call, I’m not going to be able to speak to them,” Tavolacci said.

Elected officials at the news conference said they would press Braemar to reconsider the plan.   

State Sen. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) said Braemar officials told him removing the phones was related to a change in telephone systems at the North Ocean Avenue facility. He added he didn't understand that explanation. 

He said Braemar appeared open to a compromise that would include reviewing whether some residents might require room phones.

In an email Wednesday, state Health Department spokesperson Monica Pomeroy said the agency "has received no previous complaints related to the removal of telephone landlines at this facility, however, an active review is in progress." State law generally requires adult care facilities to provide telephones in each room, she said.

Jeffrey L. Reynolds, chief executive and president of the nonprofit Family and Children's Association, a Garden City advocacy group, said it's unreasonable to expect some seniors to learn how to use cellphones.

Reynolds said it was "troubling" to him that Braemar would consider removing phones, adding mobile phones are a poor substitute.

"While many people have traded in their landlines for cellphones, seniors and people with disabilities are often less tech-savvy and unable to successfully navigate tiny buttons, small fonts, spotty reception and complicated software updates," he said in an email. "That’s assuming the residents can even afford a cellphone."

Lori Fuhrmann agreed that older residents, such as her mother, Margaret Stuchell, 91, a Braemar resident, would struggle to learn how to use cellphones. Fuhrmann, 64, of Bellport, said her mother was "on the verge of dementia."

“She’s very upset about it. She’s panicked about it,” Fuhrmann said, adding she worried her mother would lose the phone. “Either she can’t remember where it is [or] how to use it.”

Residents said they pay for their room phones — about $65 per month for landline, internet and television service.

“They depend upon the landlines to talk to their loved ones,” Berman said. “It should be worked out. Hopefully soon.”

Residents of a Medford assisted living facility are protesting plans to remove telephones from their rooms, saying their landlines are a lifeline to their families and loved ones.

Taking away the phones raises safety concerns for the residents, all of them older adults and some of them struggling with dementia and other cognitive impairments.

Residents and family members, speaking at a news conference Monday outside Braemar at Medford, said the facility's officials told them the landlines would be removed on Jan. 1. They added Braemar told them seven landline phones would be available in the library for the facility's 200 residents.

The reasons for removing room phones were unclear. Braemar officials did not return phone and email messages seeking comment. 

Paula Berman, 73, who has lived at Braemar since December, said Braemar offered cellphones to those who need them. 

"They won’t know how to use them," Berman said, referring to residents with disabilities. "They don’t know how to find their rooms.”

Her boyfriend, Pasquale Tavolacci, 90, said he worries his relatives won't be able to reach him.

“[When] they call, I’m not going to be able to speak to them,” Tavolacci said.

Elected officials at the news conference said they would press Braemar to reconsider the plan.   

State Sen. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) said Braemar officials told him removing the phones was related to a change in telephone systems at the North Ocean Avenue facility. He added he didn't understand that explanation. 

He said Braemar appeared open to a compromise that would include reviewing whether some residents might require room phones.

In an email Wednesday, state Health Department spokesperson Monica Pomeroy said the agency "has received no previous complaints related to the removal of telephone landlines at this facility, however, an active review is in progress." State law generally requires adult care facilities to provide telephones in each room, she said.

Jeffrey L. Reynolds, chief executive and president of the nonprofit Family and Children's Association, a Garden City advocacy group, said it's unreasonable to expect some seniors to learn how to use cellphones.

Reynolds said it was "troubling" to him that Braemar would consider removing phones, adding mobile phones are a poor substitute.

"While many people have traded in their landlines for cellphones, seniors and people with disabilities are often less tech-savvy and unable to successfully navigate tiny buttons, small fonts, spotty reception and complicated software updates," he said in an email. "That’s assuming the residents can even afford a cellphone."

Lori Fuhrmann agreed that older residents, such as her mother, Margaret Stuchell, 91, a Braemar resident, would struggle to learn how to use cellphones. Fuhrmann, 64, of Bellport, said her mother was "on the verge of dementia."

“She’s very upset about it. She’s panicked about it,” Fuhrmann said, adding she worried her mother would lose the phone. “Either she can’t remember where it is [or] how to use it.”

Residents said they pay for their room phones — about $65 per month for landline, internet and television service.

“They depend upon the landlines to talk to their loved ones,” Berman said. “It should be worked out. Hopefully soon.”

Landlines at assisted living facilities

State law generally requires adult care facilities, such as those that provide long-term, non-medical residences to five or more adults, to provide room phones. Here are the rules: 

  • Telephones or bells and signals audible to staff "shall be available for emergency communication between resident bedrooms and staff stations”
  • Each apartment or room "must contain at least one telephone”
  • Landlines "may be removed with [Health] Department approval and/or when they are inoperable but must be replaced by a licensed telephone contractor"
  • Complaints may be reported by calling 866-893-6772. Calls are confidential.    

SOURCE: New York State Department of Health

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