As the hot days of summer begin to wind down, some residents at the Sunrise of Fairfax are feeling the heat.
According to Sunrise resident Rosalie Shumaker and son Mike Shumaker, the building’s air conditioning unit has been malfunctioning for a while.
"We haven’t had it for days and days," said Rosalie Shumaker. "As I remember, they said that they were getting a chiller, the unit they need to correct the situation, and we were to have gotten it last week."
According to Sunrise spokesperson Megan Lublin, the 17-year-old air conditioning system is working, but has problems. The management had planned on replacing the ailing chiller in 2006, while continuing to complete routine checks and service to the system.
"(The chiller) was scheduled to be replaced next year, until we realized it should have been replaced before that," said Lublin. "(Sunrise management) was under the impression that they were ahead of the game, and when it started to fail sooner, they expedited the process."
On Sept. 1, said Mike Shumaker, Sunrise management called a meeting with the residents and their families to talk about the air conditioning failure and said that the chiller unit would be replaced. A new chiller arrived Tuesday, Aug. 30, and was installed Tuesday, Sept. 6.
But Mike Shumaker felt that the management "weren’t really very proactive in response," he said.
Later in the week, Sunrise issued a letter saying that they would credit each of the 47 Sunrise residents $500 because of the discomfort caused by air conditioning issues.
According to Lublin, the process of replacing a chiller involves shutting off the existing unit, removing it and putting in a new one, which would take 48 hours to work to its full effect.
"There have been a few interruptions, but we have always abided by the state regulations, which states that it has to be under 85 degrees," said Lublin. Temporary air conditioning units were placed in the common rooms.
"I feel that (air conditioning) should be provided. For me, who has respiratory problems, it is a pretty serious problem," said Rosalie Shumaker. "I have difficulty breathing because of the heat and humidity. Everybody complains about it."
Rosalie Shumaker has lived in Sunrise for three years. Her son moved her from Asheville, N.C., where she had lived for over 20 years. In Asheville, the weather is the same as it is here, she said. While waiting for the air to be fixed, she has a fan going in her room, with windows and doors open.
"Thank goodness we had several nice days in the last two weeks," said Rosalie Shumaker. "It’s been a blessing. If it had been like it has in the weeks before this, I don’t know how I would have stood it."
But Rosalie Shumaker said that after she complained about a mildewed carpet caused by the leaking air conditioner in her room, the facilities at Sunrise came and recarpeted the room. "I got good results with my room," she said.
Rita Schumacher of the Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman program said that she was aware of the air conditioner situation at Sunrise of Fairfax.
"Regulations are that it has to be 85 degrees or under when there is no air conditioning," said Rita Schumacher. "They have to provide fans, which (Sunrise) has done."
Rita Schumacher said that she had not heard any information as to the state of the air conditioning system, but that the State Office of Licensing has been monitoring the situation closely.
"It’s always hard to determine," said Rita Schumacher. "You hope that the administration has been honest with you."
Residents of assisted living facilities are sometimes afraid to complain because of fear of retaliation, said Rita Schumacher, which is why the ombudsman’s program offers complaint counseling and mediation.
"It’s a problem older people have trouble solving," said Rosalie Shumaker. "If it was a younger person, maybe they would get busy and do it, because the younger person would raise hell."