Few Residents Remain as Brookside Nursing Home Closes

  • Two of the five remaining residents, Marla Maskell and Tom Ralston, eat dinner at Brookside Nursing Home with nurse Michelle Dunne RN and other residents on Nov. 16, 2017 in Wilder, Vt. The facility will be closing this month. Two other nurses were there for dinner. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Noah Sargent, head cook at Brookside Nursing Home, carries a tray of desserts to the dinning room on Nov. 16, 2017 in Wilder, Vt. A handful of residents are still living at the facility. Brookside will be closing this month. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

  • Brookside Nursing Home resident Marla Maskell in her room at the nursing home on Nov. 16, 2017, in Wilder, Vt. Maskell is one of a handful of resident still living in the nursing home. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2017 12:28:36 AM
Modified: 11/18/2017 12:28:46 AM

White River Junction — The halls of Brookside Health and Rehabilitation Center on Christian Street are beginning to echo as residents find new homes and move out in advance of the facility’s planned closing on Nov. 29.

As of Friday afternoon, just four residents remained and it looked like they all had places to go. In late October, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced plans to stop making payments to Brookside, and the nursing home’s owners told residents and their families the facility would close. Since then, 29 residents have left the 92-year-old building that the Rice family sold to out-of-state investors in October 2015.

“It’s very devastating,” said Marla Maskell, who has lived at Brookside since a March snowstorm prevented her caregivers from reaching her Hartford home. “It’s just a heartbreaking thing.”

Maskell, who is 63 and has multiple sclerosis, has found a place to live in Bethel but said the care she has received during her months at Brookside has been very good and that staff members “went out of their way” to tend to her needs.

“It was good care,” she said, while seated in her wheelchair near a nurse’s station in one of Brookside’s hallways. “Couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Residents and their families have said the closing of the 67-bed nursing home is a loss. In the little more than two years since the new owners purchased the property, inspectors from the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living’s Division of Licensing and Protection have cited the facility for a number of problems, including those relating to food safety, staffing levels, a gap in contracts between providers of rehabilitation services that left some patients without such services for a time, and a failure to ensure that patients see their doctor regularly.

But residents and their families say that the day-to-day interactions with staff were pleasant, and they will miss their home, though most have found new ones. Moving can be difficult for anyone, but it is particularly hard for those with physical or mental disabilities who already have had to adjust to life in a nursing home at least once before.

“Rumor has it that everyone who has left here, no one expressed any joy at leaving,” said Tom Ralston, who is the president of Brookside’s residents council and was among the four residents remaining there on Friday.

One resident who moved out on Thursday did say that they weren’t going to miss Brookside and wasn’t looking forward to their new home, Ralston said, but he described them as an outlier.

“Brookside really served a unique niche,” said Ralston, whose wife, Pat, lives about half a mile down the road from Brookside in Wilder. “I think the community will miss having a facility here.”

Ralston, 62, who has lived at Brookside for four years and is on Medicaid, is paralyzed from the armpits down and lacks the use of his hands, had hoped to remain as close as possible to Pat and his son, James, who lives in Lebanon.

But, as of Friday afternoon, it looked as though Ralston would be moving to a nursing home in Bennington, which is a two-hour trip from Wilder.

“It’s a long ways away,” he said. “A great sacrifice as a result of the closure of this facility.”

Should the paperwork go through for the move to Bennington, Ralston said he would remain on waiting lists at facilities closer to home.

In general, residents have been able to find alternative care within 30 miles of Brookside, Ralston said. In some cases, Brookside residents have been able to maintain connections with each other, in at least one case as roommates.

He hasn’t heard from everyone who has moved, but “what I do hear is positive,” he said.

Both Suzanne Leavitt, of the Division of Licensing and Protection, and Sean Londergan, the state’s long-term care ombudsman, said the transition is progressing successfully. They are monitoring the closure through weekly reports from the facility, they both said.

Londergan said he noticed that the rate of progress in getting residents relocated seemed to increase when the state became more involved in recent weeks.

The “state might get a quicker response” from other nursing homes in finding empty beds than staff at Brookside were able to get, he said.

At a meeting of the family and residents councils last week, Londergan said those in attendance expressed frustrations that the facility was closing and at their options outside of Brookside.

“Not everybody in the facility could get a bed offer in that area in Vermont because it was full,” Londergan said.

Of the residents who had been placed by the end of last week, six had gone to nearby New Hampshire facilities, Leavitt said. The others who had gotten beds had found them at other Vermont nursing homes, residential care homes or adult family care homes along the state’s eastern edge, she said.

Donna Bamford, 68, who has a brain injury and resulting cognitive impairment is among the residents who have relocated recently. Her sister Tara Bamford, of East Thetford, who was a co-chairwoman of the family council at Brookside, quickly moved her sister to Hanover Terrace on Lyme Road, following Brookside’s owners Oct. 19 announcement that the facility would be closing.

“It has been a rough transition for her due to the severity of her cognitive impairment and the time it takes for caregivers to become familiar with her needs,” Tara wrote in an email.

Holly Martin’s father, 101-year-old David Fortin, moved to the 39-bed Cedar Hill Health Care in Windsor. Fortin, who is a veteran, wanted to remain as close as possible to the providers at the White River Junction VA Medical Center, Martin said in an email.

“Cedar Hill really was his best choice,” Martin wrote.

Martin, however, wasn’t sure how Fortin, who pays for his care out of pocket, felt about the cost of the move. Martin estimated her father will be paying at least $2,000 more per month for care at Cedar Hill than he was paying for care at Brookside. Martin previously had said her father was paying $8,000 a month at Brookside.

The move also took an emotional toll, said Martin, who lives in Florida.

From what she could tell from a distance, “he was somewhat apprehensive, maybe a bit fearful,” she wrote. “That’s expected I guess. Although he’s pretty sharp, he is still 101 years old with all the mental and physical frailties that entails.”

On Thursday, Maskell had her bags packed and was ready to move next week to a Bethel home, where she will live with a family and receive care. She already attends the Gifford Adult Day program in Bethel, so it seemed like a good fit, she said. She no longer has any family remaining in Hartford, but will be farther from friends.

Maskell said she will miss the activities and games offered at Brookside, as well as the caring staff.

“The girls worked hard,” she said.

The Vermont Department of Labor held a “rapid response” event this week for the 49 employees who have been laid off as a result of Brookside’s closure, said Labor Commissioner Lindsay Kurrle.

At the event, which was held at Brookside on Thursday, department staff offered the 17 employees who attended assistance in accessing unemployment benefits, as well as reemployment services, such as help with resume writing and interview skills, and information about job training, Kurrle said. Labor department staff also offered the employees information about available jobs around the state.

Given the low unemployment rate, of 2 percent in Windsor County, and the particularly high demand for registered nurses, licensed nursing assistants and licensed practical nurses, Kurrle said, “We would hope that they will have a very short transition time, if any.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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