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Sidwell Friends School Was Protested in Attempt to Save Nearby Elder-Care Facility

About 20 people gathered in front of Sidwell Friends School Thursday to protest the planned sale of the Washington Home, a 128-year-old nonprofit nursing facility for the elderly and terminally ill, to the elite private school in Northwest DC that counts President Obama‘s daughters among its students.

Organized by the DC Tenant’s Advocacy Coalition (TENAC), a local nonprofit supporting tenant’s rights, the demonstration brought out family members of Washington Home residents, and professors at from the University of the District of Columbia’s Housing and Consumer Law Clinic, which has been providing legal counsel for some families at the Washington Home. The group came together in the rain at about noon, waving home-made signs and chanting slogans like, “SFS, don’t put our grannies in distress!”

Sidwell’s upper-school campus sits next door to the Washington Home. The school announced plans to purchase the elder-care facility for $32.5 million last September, to accommodate its lower school, which is currently located in Bethesda. The sale of Washington Home drew flak because it would displace its population of more than 100 seniors, many of whom are senile and on Medicaid. Some of the sale’s opponents argued that Sidwell, a Quaker school, compromised its ethics by buying out Washington Home.

In the months since the sale was announced, complaints have surfaced over residents being misinformed about the Home’s original plans to sell, the decline in nursing care for the people still living there, and the difficulties family members have faced finding available, comparable hospices.

TENAC Chairman Jim McGrath, who’s had friends of his live in the Washington Home, hopes his advocacy can help resolve the dispute. “Our slogan is, ‘money doesn’t always win, sometimes conscience does,’ ” he says. “Any kind of uprooting of people that are elderly and mentally ill is like a death sentence.”

McGrath also says the sale shows a “juxtaposition between those who have options at Sidwell and the elderly and sick at the Washington Home–that dichotomy would be helpful to use.”

Larry Ottinger, a Sidwell alumnus who’s been an outspoken advocate for Washington Home residents, was also at the protest. He’s pressing for executives at Sidwell and the Washington Home to come to “a negotiating table, where people sit down together, and figure it out.”

UDC hosted a panel discussion on April 19 in an attempt to hash out resolutions with DC Council member Mary Cheh, who represents upper Northwest, and other city officials. The college also invited representatives from Sidwell and the Washington Home, but neither sent anyone.

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Jackson Knapp
Assistant Editor