Twenty-eight days. That's how long residents at Heritage Hills senior living apartments have been going without consistent hot water.
Residents report that they were told Monday the problem would be fixed that day. Apartment manager Karen Lynch verified that it was in fact being worked on, but residents have heard that before - twice.
Wednesday, after the problem was supposedly fixed for the first time, water temperatures in the apartments were still low.
That same day, The Press tested water in an apartment on the first floor and second floor. After running water for two minutes, the apartment on the first floor had a reading of 81 degrees in the kitchen and 78 degrees in the bathroom. The second-floor apartment had a reading of 88 degrees in the kitchen and 84 degrees in the bathroom after two minutes.
Senior Vice President of MetroPlains Theresa Nesbitt told The Press the readings on the water heater were hot.
"Water heaters are functioning," she said. "We are testing the water temperatures every single day - even more often than every single day - and it's ranging between 100 and 120 degrees ... I don't understand your reading since we're monitoring the readings throughout the course of the day. Anytime anybody's water isn't hot enough, we go up to the unit and measure. I haven't had a reading under 100 degrees since."
Nesbitt said the only logical explanation she could have for the difference in their temperature readings and those done by The Press was that the residents weren't letting the hot water run long enough.
"All those faucets have low-flow pressure adapters or ends to them so that it's mixing air with the water as it's coming through, and it creates a back pressure on the water supply. It's supposed to. It's a water conservation thing," she said. "It will take longer for hot water to arrive at the unit when it has that back pressure on it. I'm wondering and I'm thinking that maybe that water it's just not letting it run long enough. Sometimes I've seen some places it would take about 3½ minutes to get hot water, up to like the fourth floor, because of that."
Friday, after the conversation with Nesbitt, The Press tested the same first-floor apartment's kitchen faucet water for hot water after letting it run for three minutes, five minutes and seven minutes on full blast. The temperature was 85 degrees after 3-5 minutes of running and 86 degrees after 7 minutes of running.
A gas regulator for the water heater was replaced the same day, though Nesbitt said it would have nothing to do with the temperature of the residents' water.
That evening, residents reported that they did have hot water; however, not long after, that was no longer the case.
Monday, The Press checked water temperatures again in apartments on the first and second floors after running the water for five minutes each. The water in the kitchen sink of the apartment on the first floor was 78 degrees. One apartment on the second floor's hot water was 72 degrees in the kitchen sink. A separate second-floor apartment had 69-degree water in the bathroom.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended temperature for washing dishes is at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
"I have to boil water to wash my dishes. I have to boil water to wash up before bed. I boil water to wash up in the morning before I get dressed," said resident Colleen Hiepler.
Residents say management has ceased to inform them of the status of the water heater since The Press last reported on the issue. Prior to the article, they had received three notices. When they do ask about the problem, residents say management is rude and dismissive.
Some residents say they would like to move, but they can't afford to, as they're on a fixed income.
"We can't afford that," Wil Hanel, a resident at Heritage Hills, said. "They know that, so they use that against us. We're like sheep, and they're sheepherders. If you're a black sheep, they'll kick you out ... You get tired of fighting after a while. You just get tired. The stress level in this building is high."
Ellingson, the business that worked on the water heater, declined to comment and referred The Press to Heritage Hill's building manager, Lynch, who referred The Press to Nesbitt. Nesbitt could not be reached for comment, Monday.