Norma Richardson always wanted to spend the last years of her life at Imperial Plaza, just as three of her sisters did before her.
Richardson, now 91, happily moved into an independent living apartment at the venerable Richmond retirement community in 2015 from her home in Henrico County. Last year — after a fall and before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived — she moved into assisted living in a suite of rooms in the Azalea Building, one of four residential towers for seniors on the sprawling campus on Bellevue Avenue.
But her stay at Imperial Plaza is about to end, as she and almost 100 other seniors requiring help for daily activities look for a new home. The new owner of the retirement community, now Legacy at Imperial Village, announced on March 15 that it is closing the assisted living unit to make way for a new kind of retirement community focused on younger, more active adults entering their senior years.
It’s not an easy transition, said one of her twin daughters, Terry Wagoner Creamer, who is traveling between her home in the North Carolina Outer Banks and Richmond to deal with the situation.
“She’s in a wheelchair, and she looked up at my sister and said, ‘Where am I going? Where are my friends?’” Creamer said. “This just hurts because she’s been so happy.”
Richardson plans to move into a new home on Monday at Blue Ridge Senior Living, an assisted living facility in western Henrico that has been working closely with the new owners of Imperial Plaza to take as many displaced residents as it can after the sudden announcement that they would have to leave within 60 days.
“We are happy to partner with them and we want to make this transition as easy for families and residents as possible,” said Tyler Mackall, executive director at Blue Ridge. Imperial Plaza has described Blue Ridge Senior Living as “our sister community,” although there is no legal affiliation between the two New Jersey-based companies that own the facilities.
Mackall said the facility already has admitted some residents from Imperial, but he declined to estimate how many of the 98 displaced residents Blue Ridge will be able to accept.
“We do not have the capacity to take all of them,” he said.
Blue Ridge says it also will hire some of the estimated 50 employees who will lose their jobs caring for assisted living residents at Imperial Plaza, which opened in 1967. Mackall said he does not know how many staff the facility will hire, but he acknowledged the importance of “having as many familiar faces” as possible for residents during the transition.
For Creamer and other families, the decision to close the assisted living unit at Imperial Plaza came as a shock.
Brentwood Investment Group, based in New Jersey, and The Bluestone Group, based in New York, bought the property at the beginning of March for $75 million. Richmond BizSense first reported the sale of the property by Dominion Partners, a limited liability company in Alabama that was a spinoff of Daniel Corp.
Documents in the Richmond assessor’s office show the seller as Daniel US Properties, a limited partnership that had owned Imperial Plaza since 2001.
Initially, however, Creamer said Imperial Management told her sister, Jerry Richardson, in a Zoom call that the plan was to renovate the building.
Creamer acknowledged it needed an upgrade. “It’s the same it was when my aunts were there,” she said. “In fact, I was happy about it.”
But three days later, BSA Property Management Company, also based in New Jersey, told residents and families that because of “an overwhelming amount of feedback concerning the renovation and required relocations,” the new owner had decided to close the assisted living unit and give residents 60 days to relocate, as required by Virginia law.
“Shocking,” Creamer said.
Barry Zolty, a partner at Brentwood, said Friday that the company initially had wanted to move residents while renovating the building, but decided that it made more sense to close the unit entirely to renovate the building as part of the plan to reorient the community to active adults, age 55 years and up.
“This isn’t the ideal assisted living facility,” he said of the multistory building.
Zolty said the 60-day notice is a state requirement, but the company would extend the deadline as necessary.
“We’re here,” he said. “We’re not running away.”
Maryanne Lee, the former Imperial Plaza administrator who now leads the property management company, said the administration is working with families, residents and employees. “Any concerns of either our residents, families or staff members will be addressed quickly, appropriately, and with care,” she said in an email message on Friday.
“We have forged relationships with other communities in the area in an effort to provide multiple options for both our residents and staff members,” she said. “Importantly, this includes communities that will honor the current rental rates of our residents and offer employment incentives to our staff members.”
Lee did not respond to questions about the adequacy of staffing and resident care during the transition, but Zolty said, “There is ample and adequate staff.”
Joani Latimer, the state long-term care ombudsman for the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services, said ombudsman staff at Senior Connections in Richmond are assessing the situation at Imperial Plaza.
Maintaining staff is “always a concern” during major transitions at long-term care facilities,” Latimer said. You may have a loss of staff that’s already short.”
Lee said the company said it is “communicating regularly” with the Virginia Department of Social Services, which licenses and regulates assisted living facilities, and is “committed to following all directives from that office.”
Cletisha Lovelace, a spokeswoman for the department, said its licensing office confirmed that Imperial Living Opco LLC, which operates Imperial Plaza, “has met all the required standards regarding notice to residents and family members of intent to close.”
Lovelace said the state licensing office “has not received requests from residents and/or family members from Imperial Living Opco LLC for assistance. Any assistance needed regarding specific placement would be referred to the local department of social services. “
“We have not received any complaints that the residents are at risk or are being placed at risk as part of this process,” she added.
Creamer said that she had regarded her mother’s care at Imperial Plaza as excellent, and she’s been pleased with the help the family has gotten from Blue Ridge Senior Living for the transition.
“They have been lovely, so far,” she said.
But Creamer remains anxious about how Richardson will react to the transition.
“It’s a major move,” she said.