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Pain, sorrow after care facility closes
In June Mulcahy’s room at Mercer Island Care and Rehab was a small collection of artwork on the wall, featuring an array of sunflowers, and a beautiful potted garden outside her window. Her daughter, Molly Nielson, says June loved the yellow sunbursts, and the staff admired her bright corner of the nursing home.
When her mom passed away soon after Mercer Island Care and Rehab announced its closure – just before she was transferred to her own placement at Mission Healthcare in Bellevue – Nielson remembers carting the boxes of her belongings through the hallways.
“Here I am with a [nursing] aid, pushing a trolley with the last three or four boxes of my mom’s life…Everybody knew where her room was. It was easy to know which were June’s things because she loved sunflowers,” says Nielson.
She remembers two administrators coolly regarding the belongings. “Whose stuff is that,” one woman asked.
“I thought it was so telling,” says Nielson. “You can’t even say, ‘Can I help with that?’ or ‘I’m very sorry for your loss.’”
Mercer Island Care and Rehab had its license revoked on June 4 after an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services (DSHS) revealed pervasive financial troubles and a long list of unresolved complaints. The nursing home, a private facility operated by the national company Videll Healthcare, regularly couldn’t pay bills, resulting in food shortages and the delayed delivery of medical supplies. Over the course of 30 days, all 74 residents were to be relocated, a task that DSHS field manager Bennetta Shoop said was on target as of Monday, June 30.
Nielson remembers receiving a phone call about the closure at an odd hour, the evening DSHS announced the facility’s license was being revoked. It was from a nurse Nielson knew and respected. She was shocked.
“I can barely put into words what it was like walking in that day,” said Nielson of the following morning. “There was the full gamut of emotions walking down the hall—stress and nervousness. [Patients wondered] am I going to get a place? Where will I end up? People calmed down a little bit as other skilled nursing facilities and the state worked hard to find great placements…But I just think Videll Healthcare should be truly, utterly ashamed of themselves.”
Nielson’s mother had been at the facility for six years and while she had grievances, she felt the staff were the main reason it operated for as long as it did. Many approached her after her mother passed to express their condolences, caring for her, she said, as though she were their own loved one. It was only after news of the closure began to ripple through the community that Nielson said certain staff began to open up about their own experience – about checks that bounced, or the frequent changes in management. “Everywhere you walked in the building, staff were so kind. The one thing Mercer Island Care and Rehab had was an amazing staff, even in their poor ratings from various studies.”
Nursing homes that accept Medicare patients are regularly inspected and reviewed on a five-star rating system. Mercer Island Care and Rehab received four stars for staffing but just one on its health inspection.
Nielson estimated that most staff had been there for ten or more years. They had never been anything but professional, she said, and she didn't for a minute suspect there were stormy waters ahead.
“There were a lot of things that were not great here, but the level of care is skilled and they had a caring staff. You want that,” she said. “I just had no idea what they were going through as an entity...I felt [the staff] handled themselves with great respect for the residents and also for themselves.”
For staff, the closure is equally devastating. Nielson remembers one conversation with a nurse who had been with the facility for close to ten years. She drove each day from Kent because she loved the community she worked in. But with news that Mercer Island Care and Rehab’s license had been revoked, she felt “broken,” and wondered if she had it in her anymore to continue in her line of work.
“Videll Healthcare has destroyed a neighborhood and a community...It's shattered lives,” said Nielson. “Even though the state was amazing and the company they hired to find placements was great, when you're at a need for skilled nursing care, you have limited options.”
Nielson expressed frustration that not every patient had a support system or family to assist. June had her daughter to help with the transition, but the move proved a trying ordeal for such a vulnerable population.
DSHS held a conference call about the ramping down of Mercer Island Care and Rehab Monday, June 30. Field manager Shoop said that the facility planned to have everyone out by July 3.
Patients will go to facilities scattered throughout the region. Some will be discharged to family members. Still others may require a lower level of care and will go to adult family homes or assisted living facilities. Shoop said each was given at least one alternative to choose between.
"I'm sure there have been bumps in the road because this is not an easy process to take care of," she explained. "But we haven't specifically heard any [complaints] about this particular discharge."
Eleven patients were still choosing between placements as of Tuesday afternoon. On Thursday, the building will be closed entirely.
But the transition will not be so easy for staff, who family members like Nielson credit with keeping the facility afloat.
"The state has no responsibility, if you will, to find work for those displaced workers," said Shoop, though she said Prestige, the temporary management agency overseeing the closure of Mercer Island Care and Rehab, had connected former employees with job fairs and inquired about openings at other facilities.
"I believe there has been some transitional movement that way," said Shoop, "but I don't know much about it or what the bottom line is of the staff transition."
As of July 1, Videll Healthcare had not appealed the state's decision to revoke its license.