A Dying Wish

Peggy Quinn wanted to make death easier on the terminally ill, but she's made life hard on everyone else.

But when Raskin and Henderson reported back to Quinn on what they'd agreed to, she became furious: Over her dead body was the Denver home that she had worked so hard to open nine years ago -- the first Anam Chara home of what she hoped would some day be many -- going to be sold.

Raskin decided he'd had enough. On May 2, he wrote a letter to the board of directors informing them that he was disbanding the Concerned Friends of Anam Chara, which he'd formed. "This course of action is found necessary due to the refusal by Peggy Quinn to acknowledge the facts and circumstances defining the situation," he wrote. (Shim, Altgelt and Asztalos, among others, still support Quinn, although some of them say they've come to realize that her stubbornness is largely to blame for the organization's downfall.)

Since Quinn no longer had any authority, the board of directors could have gone ahead with the sale of the Denver home without her cooperation. But Bezuidenhout was nervous about proceeding because of a new development: A friend of Quinn's named Steve Young had started threatening Namaste and the Anam Chara board with a lawsuit.

Neither Bezuidenhout nor any of the boardmembers knew who Young was at the time or what he planned to sue them for, but he was worrying them.

As it turns out, Young runs a nonprofit company that trains people to work with the elderly, and some of his students had worked at Anam Chara in the past, which is how he met Quinn. He says he only got involved because the situation reminded him of something that had happened to him back in 1971, when he was the coordinator for the National Council on Alcoholism's Boulder County chapter. A man who was grateful for the organization's help had willed his house to the council, and he wanted the local chapter to use it as a halfway house for recovering alcoholics. But when a new director was hired and a new board of directors took over, they sold the house to a battered-women's shelter and used the money from the sale to pay the director's salary. Eventually, the money ran out and the Boulder chapter closed.

"That appears to me to be what's going on here," Young says. "I'm going to actively oppose [the sale], not because I'm a friend of Anam Chara but because I'm a citizen. Transferring the assets of a nonprofit to a for-profit is theft." In fact, Young says, he is acting independently of Quinn. "I'm not part of the Peggy Quinn defense organization," he says wryly. "All of this has happened because Peggy has her head up her ass, and I'm angry at her for that."

Despite his threats, the board finally decided in mid-May to put the Denver home up for sale. Although Wall says the board intends to sell it to Namaste, the board put the home on the open market at Bezuidenhout's insistence because she wanted the transaction to be fair. The asking price is $300,000; boardmembers say Bezuidenhout plans to make an offer soon.

In a May 12 letter that Bezuidenhout sent to the families of the Denver home residents, she assured them that their loved ones won't be displaced if her company buys the house at 3119 Josephine Street, but she also suggested that some residents may no longer wish to stay.

"Admission will not be dictated by the length of time that someone is expected to live," Bezuidenhout wrote in her letter. "It is possible that some people who are currently involved with the home will not feel comfortable as the focus shifts. For those people, we will provide information about other options and assistance with placement if need be. We do not plan to insist that anyone leave the home within a specific time frame because of philosophical incompatibility."

Bezuidenhout never explained in her letter just what those focus shifts will entail, but she says now that what she meant to convey was that emphasis will be placed on quality of life, not on quantity. And that means residents won't be allowed to leave the home for lengthy hospital stays. When Quinn was in charge of Anam Chara, she would reserve a resident's place in the home even if he had to seek treatment in a hospital or rehabilitation center for a few weeks. But having a bed sit empty is too expensive, Bezuidenhout says, so that practice will cease. "There will be contracts with the residents totally defining the terms of their stay. One of the key admission criteria will depend on their goals," she says. "We won't kick anyone out, but if they want to extend their life, it may not be the place for them."

Marsha Miller, who put her eighty-year-old mother, Mildred Schlepp, in the Denver Anam Chara home in November after she suffered a stroke, says the letter makes her worry that the Anam Chara philosophy will disappear with Namaste. And she shares Quinn's suspicions about Bezuidenhout. "Since she had planned to open a home all along, it makes me suspect that she orchestrated this thing from the very beginning," she says. "It looks like she viewed Peggy as an easy victim."

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