As nursing facilities close, officials hope to move residents back home

With four nursing homes across the state set to close in the coming weeks, those responsible for figuring out where the more than 300 residents will move to are hoping to return as many as possible to their homes with continuing state support.

“We want to send them back to where they were living before they entered a nursing home as much as possible,” said the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Nancy Shaffer. “But only with the right services in place.”

Shaffer said the opportunity to return home is welcome news to many residents. “They are surprised when I tell them that,” she said as she headed into one of the closing homes in New Haven to discuss options with residents.

Last year Shaffer had to find new homes for about 80 residents when West Rock Nursing Home in New Haven was ordered to close after filing for bankruptcy. In the end, more than half of West Rock’s residents were moved back into the community and the remainder were transferred to nearby nursing homes, she said.

Shaffer and other advocates hope the same happens this time around.

“This strategy is really part of the protocol now,” she said.


Lea Best, a caretaker at Rocky Hill’s nursing home, and Deborah Chernoff, the union representative for the workers, protest the homes closing

“The closing of these homes is a very good opportunity to evaluate whether they can go back home. Obviously, only with the right package of support,” said Matthew V. Barrett, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities. His group represents about 60 percent of the states 230 licensed nursing homes, which included the four closing nursing homes.

But not everyone is happy with that strategy, including the nearly 600 people who work at the four nursing homes being closed in West Hartford, West Haven, New Haven and Rocky Hill. About 50 of those workers protested in the pouring rain outside the Department of Social Services’ offices in Hartford Wednesday.

“There is no where for them to go,” said Lea Best, who has been a caretaker at Rocky Hill Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation for the last 18 years. “My residents don’t know where they’re going to go.”

Deborah Chernoff, who represents the workers at many of the state’s nursing homes, said the choice to return home from a nursing facility should not be forced on residents because their current home is closing.

“That is traumatic to these residents to be separated from all the people they know,” she said.

The state is moving to help more residents stay home or return home from institutions.

In the state budget signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Wednesday, legislators agreed to expand the Money Follows the Person program, which will provide the services residents need in the community. The expansion of the program is expected to move 2,200 people out of a nursing home over the next two years. Many of those could be from these closing facilities.

Studies have indicated that it is significantly cheaper to provide all the services someone needs at home then to move them into a nursing home. Nationally, nursing home care costs about $75,200 per resident each year. Care in the home averages $18,000 a year, according to a report from the AARP Public Policy Institute.

But there have been several obstacles to keeping these residents in their homes. To qualify for home care someone must fit into one of several specific programs, which cap enrollment and many have waiting lists.

The Appropriations Committee on Wednesday considered a bill that would have eliminated those waiting lists by allowing everyone eligible to receive home services. In doing so they would have received federal reimbursements for those with disabilities and complex medical needs receiving care at home. Instead, the committee voted to shift an existing home-care program for the elderly — which does not have a waiting list — to begin receiving federal reimbursements for about half the costs. But Republican legislators said they worried that money would never come or that the state would spend more money then the state gets back.

“You spend a dollar and you get back 50 cents,” said Rep. Craig Miner, R-Litchfield and Ranking Republican on the legislature’s Appropriations Committee. “It may actually cause us to expend money and not get federal money back.”

But Rep. Peter Tercyak, the co-chairman of the Public Health Commitee, said the bill will keep more people out of expensive nursing homes and at home where they prefer to be, with the federal government helping pay the tab.

“The worst that can happen is we save $10 to $20 million dollars,” he said before the committee approved the bill.

Barrett said without question there are beds available to those from the closing facilities in nearby nursing homes, but Shaffer said she is just glad the option is now available to these residents to go home if they want.

“They have a lot of options now. The decision is really in their hands where they move,” Shaffer said. “Many I am sure will chose to move back into the community.”