Atop an image of two unidentified men, the meme read:
A Californian care home went bankrupt. About 16 elderly residents were abandoned, most staff left but the janitor and the cook stayed behind to care for the residents at their own expense.
Information, citations, links, or even commentary was absent from the post, which consisted solely of that meme. Commenters praised the purported actions of the unnamed men, but few seemed to know further details of the story.
The image used in the meme first appeared in a November 2014 NPR StoryCorps piece titled “‘If We Left, They Wouldn’t Have Nobody.'” NPR’s coverage described the incomplete closure of a residential facility for elderly patients in late 2013:
The staff at the Valley Springs Manor left when they stopped getting paid — except for cook Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez, the janitor.
“There was about 16 residents left behind, and we had a conversation in the kitchen, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” Rowland says.
“If we left, they wouldn’t have nobody,” the 34-year-old Alvarez says.
“I would only go home for one hour, take a shower, get dressed, then be there for 24-hour days,” says Alvarez.
Rowland, 35, remembers passing out medications during those long days. He says he didn’t want to leave the residents — some coping with dementia — to fend for themselves.
“I just couldn’t see myself going home — next thing you know, they’re in the kitchen trying to cook their own food and burn the place down,” Rowland says. “Even though they wasn’t our family, they were kind of like our family for this short period of time.”
A December 2017 Huffington Post article included a bit more detail, such as the circumstances surrounding the closure of the facility:
In October 2013, the California Department of Social Services (DSS) closed the Valley Springs Manor Residential Care Facility for the Elderly for a number of violations, ABC 7 reported. The elderly residents of the Castro Valley facility were supposed to have been relocated, but about 16 of them — some of whom were confined to their beds — were left behind to fend for themselves, according to an NPR report.
In another portion of the piece, the outlet described the pair’s decision to remain at the facility “around the clock” in order to give the patients the care they needed:
After Rowland and Alvarez watched the more experienced staff vacate the property, the two held a quick powwow and agreed to care for the residents until more help came through.
So, over the following weekend in October , the janitor and the cook bathed and fed the residents and doled out medications, despite their limited training, Mercury News reported.
Though they weren’t getting paid, Alvarez told NPR that they worked around the clock, only taking quick breaks to shower.
A 65-year-old resident who had disappeared in the past, walked off the premises during the turmoil. He was found the following week, according to CBS.
Once another resident’s condition started to deteriorate, the pair called 911, which eventually alerted the authorities to the gravity of the situation, according to Mercury News.
About 40 minutes after that call, the Alameda County Sheriff’s department was notified and the overdue evacuation finally took shape.
The story was initially reported in late October 2013, but the actions of Rowland and Alvarez were not mentioned in that coverage.
By November 1 2013, a more detailed version of events began to come to light. A local outlet reported that state investigators moved to shutter the care home on October 25 2013, setting into motion a chain of events that left Rowland and Alvarez alone in charge of the 16 abandoned residents, and that “state workers were supposed to have made sure before they left, particularly when the facility officially closed at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 24 , that residents were being safely transitioned to new homes”:
After the state officials took off, the cook and janitor who stayed on — with no pay — said their supervisor was nowhere to be found, leaving just the two of them to bathe, feed and monitor residents despite not having the proper training.
Rowland, the cook, said the state agency workers should have done more to help after witnessing alarming conditions after caretakers began walking off the job.
“She was aware of everything that was going on,” Rowland said of the last state official to visit the home. “She had some authority and she could’ve made something happen. She could have done more than what she did.”
As the cook and the janitor were left alone with residents on [October 25 and 26 2013], newly released 911 calls documented their exasperation.
“What’s wrong with him?” the dispatcher asks the cook about an ill resident.
“Well, I haven’t seen him,” Rowland said. “But they just told me to call 911 because he is looking pretty bad.”
In another call, Rowland said while it was not a “life or death” situation, one of the residents was breathing heavily and “may have been running a bit of a fever.”
Roughly 40 minutes later, a fire captain, who realized the gravity of the situation, called Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies for help. The hours long evacuation began shortly after.
“It’s a convalescent home that’s been shut down by the state and there are still clients in the building without any support,” the dispatcher said. “It looks like the management people have left them here.”
A follow-up item published by SFGATE in November 2013 about the two men had the following note appended at the top:
Editor’s note: This article from November 2013 is apparently going viral on Facebook in April 2015.
A spike of viral interest in April 2015 possibly led to another update on Rowland and Alvarez after the incident, this one published in June 2015. The two men were then working with a documentary filmmaker on their experience at the abandoned care home:
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.
In March 2015, charges were filed against two individuals in relation to the botched care home closure:
The owner and a top administrator who are accused of abandoning elderly and mentally ill residents in a Castro Valley senior home in 2013 without proper staffing or care for two days have been charged with felony elder abuse and could face up to 17 years in prison if convicted, officials said [in March 2015].
California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced the indictment of Valley Springs Manor owner Herminigilda Noveda Manuel and administrator Edgar Babael on 14 felony counts of elder abuse. Authorities say the pair left residents in the care of only a janitor and a cook for several days after the state abruptly shut down the facility in October 2013.
The only people who stayed behind were janitor Miguel Alvarez and cook Maurice Rowland, who struggled to provide basic care for the residents for more than two days. Neither was trained to care for the residents but said they didn’t want to leave the elderly men and women behind.
Both men said Monday that they were glad someone was being held accountable for the debacle at Valley Springs.
“It’s about time someone steps up to the plate and (takes) the blame for what happened,” Rowland said when he heard about the charges.
Alvarez added: “They gotta pay their consequences for what they did. I don’t wish bad on anybody, or that they should go to jail. I just think they should pay a fine.
In December 2015, California adopted a new law prompted in large part by the abandonment of Valley Springs Manor.
The actions taken by Maurice Rowland and Miguel Alvarez were accurately described in the above meme and the many that came before it, but the underlying story was worth telling in detail. Eventually, authorities stepped in and evacuated the home’s residents to safety and both men were commended for their response to the situation.