t was the fall of 2000 and state inspectors were
due to arrive at Seaport Manor, an adult home for the mentally ill
in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Upstairs, some of its 325 residents,
bewildered and mumbling, shuffled along the dreary hallways.
Downstairs, a handful of workers hastily doctored records, they
said, to make it seem as if the home was providing proper care.
The workers said they concocted case notes for manic-depressives
who holed up in their rooms for so long they became malnourished.
They invented psychiatric evaluations for residents who went
untreated and turned suicidal. They scrawled therapy plans for women
who prostituted themselves in the stairwells for cigarette money and
for men who shook down other residents for their $4-a-day
"We were told by the administrators at the home to be creative,"
said one worker, Toshua Courthan. "We were told we had to, or else
we would lose our jobs. What the state wanted to see was that these
people were being looked after, but they were not."
Ms. Courthan was fired after reporting the falsifying of records
and other misconduct at the home to the state, and she is suing
Seaport. Her account was independently supported by other current
and former workers, including two who participated that evening, as
well as by an examination of some of the records.
The inspectors who showed up that day in 2000, however,
apparently never detected the hundreds of sham files, according to
state records. Seaport, which receives more than $3.5 million
annually from the government, stayed open. For its residents, life
has remained as wretched as ever.
Occupying a one-acre tract, the five-story brick building sits
behind a row of shrubbery at 615 East 104th Street, not far from the
neighborhood piers. A generation ago the home, along with dozens
like it, represented a briefly entertained hope for the thousands of
mentally ill people being pushed out of state psychiatric hospitals.
In these homes, residents would learn to live independently and
enter a mainstream community.
Just how profoundly that vision has collapsed can be appreciated
in words from the state itself, which dubbed Seaport "The New
Warehouse for the Insane" in a 1997 study by the Office of Mental
Health. If the state gave Seaport a cynical nickname, though,
records show it did nothing meaningful to improve or police it.
A portrait of life inside Seaport was gleaned from more than 10
visits, more than 500 pages of state inspection reports and
government documents obtained by The New York Times, as well as more
than 50 interviews with workers and residents.
During a typical visit to the home, residents can be seen sitting
for hours in the crowded smoking room, rocking back and forth,
speaking only to themselves. Others can be spotted walking to the
local liquor store, much to the dismay of those at the nearby day
Current and former workers said two residents openly deal crack
from their rooms, contributing to the drug abuse, loan-sharking,
prostitution and violence that have gripped the home for years. In
this predatory atmosphere, the frail quickly learn that the safest
place is behind the closed doors of their rooms. Others find
different ways to get by.
"It's tough around here," said a resident in her 50's who said
she sells sex to workers and other residents for a few dollars. "You
have to do it to survive."
Ambulances are regular visitors. In a three-month period last
year, they made 93 runs to the home, city records show, sometimes to
take away the dying, other times to rescue the neglected.
For years, workers said, a security guard subdued psychotic
residents by beating them. Other employees are convicted drug
dealers, prison records show. Several former workers said the home
sometimes continued to collect the monthly disability benefits of
residents after they died, or gave their Social Security numbers to
illegal immigrants the home hired.
There were dozens of numbers to choose from. From 1995 through
2001, one Seaport resident died roughly every month, according to an
analysis by The Times. In all, at least 79 died, including at least
three who committed suicide and two others whose bodies were
discovered only after workers were drawn to the smell of decay.
"This is the last stop," a resident named Jerry said in his room
at the home. "They are not preparing anyone for living outside of
For 26 years, the state has documented problems at Seaport and
then averted its eyes. Since 1998, conditions have been so bad that
inspection reports concluded that Seaport, as one said, "was in
serious noncompliance in all major areas of operation."
The reports cited inadequate staffing and dangerous lapses in the
distribution of medication. During a 1999 inspection, investigators
refused to fully examine rooms because they were so fetid. They also
remarked in their records how workers at the home were able to walk
past disheveled residents without even noticing them.
Only in recent months, after The Times began an investigation of
Seaport by requesting government records and questioning officials,
did the state say it would crack down on the home.
Its response, however, has been erratic.
Last August, the state said it would try to revoke the operators'
license. Last month, it agreed to let them surrender their license,
pay a $20,000 fine and close the home. But in recent days, the
state, confounded by the prospect of finding new housing for the
residents, indicated it might try to keep Seaport open by installing
For now, the residents remain in Seaport under the same operators
who the state has known for years have run a home of squalor and
neglect. In 2001 alone, at least 18 residents died, The Times's
analysis shows, 10 of whom were under 60.
Seaport's operators — Baruch Mappa, Martin Rosenberg and Emil
Klein — said through their lawyer they would not be interviewed.
Before agreeing to surrender their license, the operators
asserted in a disciplinary hearing before the State Department of
Health that the home had undertaken renovations, overhauled
medication practices and brought in more workers to increase
supervision of residents.