A Dying Wish

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

But Quinn had rallied a group of her own supporters, including employees of the Boulder home and family members of the Boulder residents, who showed up, uninvited, at the meeting. The employees shocked the board by threatening to quit unless all of the members stepped down. The family members also demanded the board's resignation.

"It was really intimidating," Wall remembers. "We were outnumbered."

"The family members were freaking out," Berzins adds. "One person said, 'I'm not taking my mom out of the home no matter what.' People were banging on tables and pointing fingers."

Quinn was quick to suggest ways to keep the Boulder home afloat. "She said she had $30,000 in donations pledged and a new board ready to step in," Berzins says. "I asked her if she'd share with us where those pledges were coming from and who this new board would be, and she said, 'No.'"

Although she didn't tell the board at the time, former boardmember Raskin had just formed a group called Concerned Friends of Anam Chara, and its members were willing to step in and assume control of the organization in case the boardmembers agreed to resign. The group included Quinn's boyfriend, Henderson; Jong Shim's son, Jae; Maria Asztalos, a former Naropa gerontology student who had interned at the Denver home; and Tom Altgelt, a landscape architect who had designed the gardens at both homes.

While everyone was bickering, Bezuidenhout was sketching out a plan to keep the Boulder home open: Namaste could run it for two years, she decided, while the board figured out what to do. But for the plan to work, the Boulder employees had to stay, because Namaste couldn't afford to hire temporary employees.

"We turned to the staff and said, 'Will you stay on to allow us to keep the Boulder home open?'" Berzins says. "They said, 'No, we won't work for a for-profit.' So we had no choice but to close the Boulder home."

Shortly thereafter, seven of the ten Boulder staff members quit, leaving hardly enough people to provide constant care for five ailing residents. Although the board issued the residents and their relatives thirty-day eviction notices, as required by law, "we were 24 hours away from having elderly people in a house and no one to care for them," Berzins says. "We were in freak-out mode." So Bezuidenhout decided to cut into her own business and send some of her employees to operate the Boulder home until the end of March.

On March 1, the board met with Bezuidenhout and her attorney to draft a contract formally allowing her to operate the Boulder home for a month and to run the Denver home -- which she had been doing since February with the staff that was already in place -- until June 30. At that point, Bezuidenhout resigned from the board to avoid a conflict of interest (although Quinn now believes it was a conflict of interest for Bezuidenhout, a boardmember, to involve Namaste in any business negotiations with the board), and Wall became chairman.

"She was our white knight," Berzins says of Bezuidenhout. "Namaste jumped in and saved the day."

Later that day, the boardmembers agreed to remove Quinn from the board (the by-laws allow boardmembers to be removed) because they believed her interests were no longer those of the board. Then they changed the locks at the Boulder home and posted signs on the door directing Bezuidenhout's staff to call 911 if Quinn came onto the property; they also banned her from the Denver home.

"Peggy is a visionary, and a visionary, by my definition, is one who fuzzes the edges, who knocks off limitations," Don Henderson explains. "Peggy scared them to death because she fuzzed the edges wherever they could be fuzzed."

Two weeks later, the Concerned Friends of Anam Chara came up with another tactic to keep the board from selling the Boulder home. At a meeting, the group (Quinn happened to be out of town at the time) presented the board with a copy of an agreement Anam Chara had made with the City of Boulder a few years earlier in which the city's housing department had given Anam Chara a $100,000 grant to help buy the home. As a condition of receiving the money, Anam Chara had promised to return the money -- plus interest -- if it ever sold the home.

The board was again taken by surprise. The agreement meant Anam Chara would have to take a huge financial hit if the Boulder home was sold, so they reached a compromise with the Concerned Friends: The board would reverse course and sell the Denver house to Namaste or to another elder-care organization and use the profits to cover the expenses Bezuidenhout had incurred over the last couple of months. The remaining profits would be used to reopen the Boulder home. At that point, the current board would resign and the Concerned Friends would replace them, so long as Quinn was given a "more appropriate founder-type role," Berzins says.

The boardmembers thought everything was finally settled.

But when Quinn returned from her trip and heard what the Concerned Friends had agreed to, she convinced them to back out of the plan. Instead of selling the Denver home to pay the debts of the Boulder home, she believed that money could be raised from donations. In the meantime, she and Henderson would care for the remaining Boulder residents. (One resident had already made plans to move in with a daughter, another went to a nursing home, and the alcoholic man left of his own volition; he was arrested sometime after that for harassing people while drunk.)

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