A Dying Wish

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

"I told Peggy to rethink the Namaste transaction because losing the Denver home would hurt us, and the first words out of her mouth were that the numbers must be wrong. She said she'd get new numbers that would show the opposite," Berzins says.

Quinn insists that the Boulder home was actually supporting the Denver home. "Those figures were wrong," she says of the spreadsheets she gave Berzins. "There was an addition mistake."

But Quinn's assurances weren't enough to satisfy Berzins. "I left that meeting feeling that I had no confidence in the information I was being given," he says. "I started thinking, 'I can't believe anything she tells me anymore.' So I started looking into things myself."

Peggy Quinn now takes care of Wanda, a former Anam Chara resident, in her home.
Anthony Camera
Peggy Quinn now takes care of Wanda, a former Anam Chara resident, in her home.

The first thing Berzins investigated was the alleged private-pay patient Quinn said she had found: A 55-year-old homeless alcoholic man whose brother was supposedly going to pay his expenses. Berzins called Quinn's administrative assistant and got the telephone number of the resident's brother; when he reached him, the brother told Berzins that he'd been receiving pressure from Quinn and Irby, who were reportedly telling him that the homeless man would be evicted if he didn't pay up. "After I talked to him, he agreed to pay $300 a month to keep his brother in Anam Chara, but even that wasn't enough. I told Peggy that he's completely inappropriate -- residents were complaining that he made them uncomfortable with his drinking." (Quinn says she would never threaten to evict a resident.)

In January, things took a drastic turn for the worse: Five patients died, bringing the total number of empty beds in the Boulder home to six -- a higher vacancy rate than Anam Chara had ever had at one time.

"I was at a point where my wife told me, 'Why are you doing this? You're a volunteer; this is supposed to make you feel good,'" Berzins says. "So I called Jan [Bezuidenhout] and told her that I was thinking of resigning. Jan said that some of the others felt the same way, so we had a meeting to discuss what to do."

Boardmember Wall remembers that meeting clearly. "We deliberated a long time over whether we should all resign and say, 'Peggy, this is your deal.' But we all felt a tremendous sense of responsibility," he says. Wall had heard about Anam Chara through Berzins, a longtime friend, and had decided to join the board because, he too, deeply believed in the organization's mission; his grandfather had died all alone in a nursing home in the United Kingdom a couple of years ago, and Wall didn't want anyone else to have to die that way.

"We realized it would go down the tubes without us," Wall continues. "Peggy is a dogmatic visionary who has her own very clear, almost religious-like agenda. It works extremely well when applied to the right things, like elder care. But when things get tough, the dogma seems to take over everything else. We started thinking that we had to take control, and the only way to do that was to ask Peggy to resign as executive director."

On February 5, the board did just that.

Quinn went to the meeting clueless about what would happen. In fact, the 3:30 p.m. gathering started out exceptionally well, she says. Quinn knew that her boardmembers didn't always see eye to eye with her. They argued over her request for them to spend time in the homes; she thought it was their responsibility to visit with the residents, and they said that as volunteer boardmembers with their own jobs and families, they were too busy to do that. She also requested several times that they enter into mediation to work out their differences, but they refused. And then there was the bad blood between her and Karin Simpson.

"I shouldn't have let her have so much autonomy," Quinn says. "Karin was telling prospective boardmembers that I was a danger to Anam Chara -- that I wasn't business-minded enough to run it, so they came in with that mindset. I found out later that she intended to get me off the board from the very beginning." (Simpson vehemently denies this.)

So Quinn was pleasantly surprised when Simpson opened the meeting by asking everyone to explain how they came to be involved with Anam Chara. "I thought that was beautiful," Quinn says.

After the boardmembers shared their stories, Bezuidenhout read a letter from board secretary Kim Yuskis announcing her resignation, for which Yuskis offered no reason. (Yuskis declined to comment for this story.) After that, they nominated Simpson to replace her as secretary, and even though Yuskis's resignation came as a surprise to Quinn, she voted in favor of Simpson's appointment. Then they discussed adopting a new set of bylaws and reviewed the bank statements and grant contracts they'd asked Quinn to bring to the meeting.

Finally, at 6 p.m., Wall announced the real reason for the meeting.

The board spent the next three hours regaling Quinn about a host of concerns they had about the homes: When one resident's medication ran out, the caregivers would sometimes replace it with another patient's medication; gloves weren't used when residents were treated; caregivers didn't always wash their hands before preparing food; residents didn't have their diapers changed often enough; employee paychecks bounced twice; there was high employee turnover in the Boulder home; and only two of the eight Denver residents had contracts to live in the home.

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