In the two years since the Valley Springs Manor assisted living facility shuttered abruptly, leaving behind more than a dozen residents, life has not changed much for Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez, the cook and janitor who stayed behind to help.
Their story, which we reported last year after they were tracked down by StoryCorps, hit quite a nerve for hundreds of thousands of our readers, and, not surprisingly, attracted a great deal of media attention. The pair received invitations to appear on a number of daytime television programs and even some calls from Hollywood.
“After everything happened, it was really big,” Rowland told The Daily Meal. “We were getting a lot of attention, and people were like the paparazzi — we would come out of our houses and there would be reporters, waiting. We really felt the hero thing.”
Over time, however, media attention dissipated and the news cycle focused its attention on new stories.
“We found other jobs,” said Rowland, who, along with Alvarez, was jobless in the wake of the closure of Valley Springs Manor.
Before Valley Springs, where he worked as a cook for three months, Rowland was a dietary aide and cook for 13 years at another care facility. Alvarez, who only worked at Valley Springs for two weeks before it closed, has yet to be paid for his time there.
Rowland is now working at Worldwide Express, a shipping company. Alvarez, who found employment as a security guard, recently left his job to take care of his mother, who is now herself in an assisted care facility after suffering a serious stroke that left her partially paralyzed.
“My mom just got really sick, and it’s really hard for my family to see her, so I spend most of my time with her,” Alvarez explained. “Now I donate my time to the rehab facility and I’m a stay-at-home dad so I can take care of my son, and my wife is working full time.”
The facility, where Miguel’s mom is undergoing physical therapy to learn how to walk again, is 20 miles from his home, and care does not come cheap. The family relies on social security and welfare to get by.
“We don’t have a lot,” Alvarez says, “but the little things we have are enough to have a happy family. The whole family is pitching in as much as they can.” A little help, however, would be appreciated, Alvarez admits.
Today, the owner and administrator of Valley Springs Manor — Herminigilda Manuel and Edgar Babael — are each facing multiple felony charges of elder abuse, totaling $84,000 in fines, along with 17 years in prison.
By the time the facility was ordered shut, as the result of several licensing violations, Rowland and Alvarez had inherited a mountain of issues with management, and the staff was largely disillusioned.“Why wouldn’t we stay? For us it was like, ‘We better not leave these people, because that would be on my conscience forever.’ If we left, what would happen?”
Even before the staff left, in October 2013, Rowland had assumed responsibility for dozens of tasks that were meant for others: keeping medical appointments for residents, making sure their family members could stay in touch, and staying on top of individual medication regimens.
“They were lucky they even had someone like Maurice, who has 13 years of experience, while everything was going down,” Alvarez said. “He knew how to keep things running.”
During this time, in the days before the impending closure, the rest of the staff wouldn’t so much as pick up the phones when they rang.
After the last of the crew left, Alvarez said, the decision to stay became non-negotiable.
“Why wouldn’t we stay? For us it was like, ‘We better not leave these people, because that would be on my conscience forever.’ If we left, what would happen?” Quite frankly, that answer came as soon as the staff departed.
“We knew what kind of people they were,” Alvarez said.
Although Rowland and Alvarez have yet to be called upon to testify against Valley Springs’ management, both were involved in the original police investigations, and their experiences might prove useful yet again, as criminal charges are being considered against Manuel and Babael.
In better news, Rowland and Alvarez are now involved with If We Left, the film in progress from Miles Maker, the independent Los Angeles filmmaker who has become a close friend. Maker calls them weekly to check in and update them on the film, the script for which is currently in development.
As for Maurice and Miguel, who have been friends since middle school — although “it was around high school that we got close,” Alvarez clarifies — they still see each other daily.
“We hang out all. The. Time. We live five to seven minutes apart,” they both say nearly in unison on our three-way phone call.
“I’m actually kind of tired of seeing Maurice now,” Alvarez adds. “Nah, I’m just kidding.”