Janitor Rescues 19 Seniors From Abandoned Center

“I’d never want to see my parents or grandparents go through anything like that.”

By Damon Beres
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine May 2014

everyday heroes janitorLeah Millis/San Francisco Chronicle/Corbis

Last October, three weeks after Miguel Alvarez started a stint as a janitor at a senior-care center, his job took a dramatic turn. Instead of mopping floors, Miguel, 33, a former stay-at-home dad, was thrust into the role of primary caregiver for the 19 elderly residents living at the center.

On October 24, 2013, the state department of social services closed the center—Valley Springs Manor, located in Castro Valley, California—citing numerous health and safety violations. Most of the staff walked out­—except Miguel and the center’s cook, Maurice Rowland. “I felt bad for the seniors, so I helped them,” Miguel says.

Unable to find contact information for the residents’ families, Miguel and Maurice themselves assisted the needy patients, some of whom were confined to beds or wheelchairs. Others reportedly had dementia. The two men fed, clothed, and bathed the residents for two days, taking only brief breaks to sleep on rocking chairs in the TV room.

Finally, after Miguel had called 911 many times over a 40-hour period, emergency workers arrived to evacuate the seniors to an area hospital or to their families’ homes.

In January, the California Department of Social Services admitted that regulators “fell short” in properly managing the property’s shutdown. The center’s operators, Hilda Manuel and Mary Julleah Manuel, are being investigated by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office for possible elder abuse.

“I’d never want to see my parents or grandparents go through anything like that,” Miguel says. “I tried the best I could.”

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