Plans to close Goddard nursing home in Jamaica Plain

by | Aug 8, 2012

The trustee board of the 163-year-old nonprofit that runs the Goddard House Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center announced the closure of the state’s oldest nursing home three weeks ago. The more than 100 patients and the 135 workers who provide them with 24-hour care will be gone by Sept. 8.

The looming closure has prompted a lot of painful goodbyes.

Patients and staff received 60 days notice, the minimum required by federal regulations, according to the state Department of Public Health. Goddard’s board has vowed to do all it can to help with the transition, including working with patients’ families, holding multiple job fairs and giving workers bonus pay.

Lisa Caruso, medical director at Goddard and chief of geriatrics at Boston Medical Center, called the shutdown “devastating.”

For patients, she said, such sudden change “can be traumatic and have a detrimental impact on their health.”

“The employees are highly skilled at their jobs at the nursing home, but it’s not like there are a lot of openings in that sector,” she added. “Nobody’s having an easy time finding another job.”

Diana Pisciotta, a spokeswoman for the trustees, said the board’s unpaid, volunteer members began exploring the facility’s future due to needed renovations. The work would have meant an estimated $10 million in construction to expand small rooms, lavatories and hallways, upgrade the sprinkler system as required by federal law.

Along with the need to modernize, the board considered a recent drop in the rate of nursing home use nationally and that the number of empty nursing home beds in Massachusetts has risen and is expected to continue to rise despite declines in the total number of beds.

All of that amounted to a determination by the board that trying to continue with Goddard would be an inefficient use of resources toward its mission of supporting Boston’s elderly population, particularly those who have limited access to healthcare and other services, said Pisciotta. Instead, the board plans to invest in other options that help fulfill unmet needs of local seniors.

“If we thought this building was critical to the health industry we are in, we would have made the investment to upgrade our infrastructure,” she said. “The reason we made this decision was not because we weren’t filling our beds. We’ve always been a popular choice.”

Still, staff and patients contend the building serves an important need and is in more than adequate condition to carry on.

Goddard received a perfect score on the state health department’s performance survey each of the past three years and has a five-star quality rating from the federal agency that administers Medicare and Medicaid.

“I think it’s good when nursing homes close due to substandard care, but this is just nonsensical,” said Julie Miller, a nurse practitioner from Boston Medical Center’s geriatric division who works at Goddard.

“It’s truly one of the excellent institutions,” she added. “The building’s not fancy, but it works. I’ve been in other facilities that are much older and in much worse repair.”

Merlin Southwick heads Mount Pleasant Home, a facility next door to Goddard that provides residential care for seniors, but not licensed skilled nursing care.

Since 2000, Mount Pleasant has referred about 30 of its residents to Goddard, he said. “It’s our primary backup for when residents need more service.”

He said he is disappointed and puzzled by the planned shutdown.

Last year, Mount Pleasant modernized and expanded its building, which is a year older than Goddard, though about one-third its size. The project increased resident capacity from 44 to 66. No residents were relocated during the 18 months of work, he said. The $20 million project was paid for, largely through fundraising, by a nonprofit that had about $3 million in unrestricted assets at the end of 2010.

while, Goddard had about $21.5 million in unrestricted assets at the end of the same year, according to its most recent available federal tax filing.

The organization runs another facility in Brookline – also called Goddard House – which provides assisted living care, but not licensed skilled nursing care. That center will remain open.

Madeleine Biondolillo, state health department director of health care safety and quality, said in a statement that her staff has cleared, but is continuing to monitor, the Jamaica Plain center’s shutdown.

“While the closure of Goddard House reduces capacity for skilled nursing care in Jamaica Plain, the closure plan is well reasoned and considerate of any concerns regarding patients and staff in light of their decision to close,” her statement said.

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