Judge orders four nursing homes closed

A Superior Court judge has ordered the closure of four financially-troubled nursing homes that together have 472 beds and employ 575 people.

Judge Jerry Wagner’s ruling Thursday follows a recommendation from the state-appointed receiver in charge of the homes that they be closed because of financial problems. Wagner ordered the receiver, Phyllis A. Belmonte, to arrange for the “orderly transfer of residents.”

The four homes–University Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in New Haven, Bishops Corner Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in West Hartford, Soundview Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in West Haven and Rocky Hill Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation–had a net loss of almost $6.5 million in 2009, Belmonte wrote in a motion filed in court last month. The homes, which were previously owned by the troubled Haven Health Care chain and more recently managed by Genesis Eldercare Network Services, went into receivership in January.

Attorneys for the property owner and the unions representing workers at the facilities had urged Wagner to provide more time to secure a buyer for the homes. A Florida company, Airamid Health Management, expressed interest in buying University and Rocky Hill, but attorneys for the state, which has been covering the cost of running the homes while in receivership, expressed skepticism about the company’s ability to make the homes viable.

Several residents, family members and workers appealed for the homes to stay open.

“I’m very comfortable there. I love the place and the care is excellent,” Corinne Jedziniak, a resident of the Rocky Hill home and president of the residents’ council, said during a March hearing. “I just don’t want to see the place closed.”

Harold Collins, president of the residents’ council at Bishops Corner, told Wagner, “We feel at this point in our lives, we should not have to start over again somewhere new.”

The state Department of Social Services, Department of Public Health and the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman will work on a plan to discharge and transfer the residents to other homes or into the community. State law allows residents of the closing homes to “jump” waiting lists at other facilities, DSS spokesman David Dearborn said. Residents could also move out of institutional care through the Money Follows the Person program, which helps people receive community-based care.

In granting Belmonte’s motion to close the homes, Wagner cited Belmonte’s reference to the large cost to the state of keeping the homes open, the availability of enough beds in the vicinity of each home to accommodate the residents, and the support for the motion by representatives of the state.

Wagner said during the March hearing that he had been touched by letters from residents, workers and relatives of residents. “It’s not easy to consider a closing,” he said.

But he also said he was not optimistic about the prospect of keeping the homes open.

Since 1995, 41 nursing homes in the state have closed, with a loss of more than 3,500 beds.

In a statement, Carmen Boudier, president of New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, which represents 330 workers at the homes, called the decision ill-considered and a tragedy for residents, staff and the communities.

“The real outcome of this decision is that 575 nurses, nursing assistants, support staff and administrators will lose their jobs and benefits, the local communities will lose hundreds of thousands of tax dollars and, worst of all, some 400 frail, elderly residents will be evicted from their home and torn apart from their friends, their familiar caregivers and their place in their communities,” she said. “We know from past experience that such evictions lead to transfer trauma for many residents due to the massive disruption to their lives.”

She also noted that the down economy means that many of the newly unemployed workers will not find new jobs. Many union members who worked at the Waterbury nursing home Crescent Manor, which closed in November 2009, have still not found permanent employment, she said, and other nursing homes are cutting back hours or laying off workers.

Boudier said the closure order reflected the result of an “unwritten but clearly-understood policy of DSS to permit facilities to fail financially and then close to reduce the state’s potential Medicaid liabilities. This has been especially true of union facilities where better wages and benefits prevail.”

DSS spokesman David Dearborn said the court, the receiver and the state tried to facilitate a sale for the homes, but it did not materialize.

Dearborn said overall demand for the level of care that traditional skilled nursing facilities provide has declined over the past decade. It seems to have occurred in direct relationship with the increase in community-based options, including Money Follows the Person, he said.

“Connecticut spends over $1.2 billion annually on Medicaid payments to long-term care facilities for care of about 17,500 frail elders and people with disabilities,” Dearborn said. “These beneficiaries will still be covered, as state agencies work with the receiver and facilities on a careful, planned transfer process, in cooperation with the residents, their families and their advocates.”

Matthew V. Barrett, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, which represents nursing homes, said the four homes had higher labor costs than nonunion homes and, like all nursing homes, struggled with Medicaid rates that he said pay $21 a day below the cost of care. The four homes predominantly cared for patients covered by Medicaid.

While DSS found there were enough available nursing home beds in the vicinity of the four homes, Barrett said that’s not the case in all areas.

“No one should think that the transfer and discharge of nursing home residents across Connecticut is a simple thing,” he said.

Residents can face stress and trauma when they have to move, Barrett said, although he praised the work of Long-Term Care Ombudsman Nancy Shaffer in helping residents relocate. There is also a great deal of stress associated with living in nursing homes under duress, as the residents of the four homes have done, he said.

“These homes are just that for nursing home residents,” Barrett said.