The Neuro-Rehabilitation Center at Middleboro recently announced its decision to shut down Nov. 30, news that has left 140 employees stunned and the families of its 107 residents worrying about the future.
The facility, which opened in 1984, treats patients with acquired brain injuries and other neurological disorders, supplying rehabilitation as well as long-term care. On its website, the center is described as “one of the few skilled nursing homes in Massachusetts to also specialize in brain injury recovery.”
Center spokeswoman Renee Slovick said the closure is the result of a trend in medical care away from institutionalized service.
“There are a lot of opportunities now for patients with brain injury to integrate back into the community, with residential group homes that cater to brain-injured patients or at-home services,” Slovick said.
In its announcement, the Neuro-Rehabilitation Center stated that because of those new service options, operating “an in-patient program within a skilled nursing home is no longer financially feasible.”
‘I promised her she would never have to move again. I was hoping this would be her last home. It’s the best place around, and she doesn’t adjust well to change.’
Slovick said the center’s Massachusetts-based parent company, Senior Residential Care, will do a market study to determine the best use of the building. The center has pledged to work with residents and families on placement options, and plans to host job fairs and provide job-search training for its workers, she said.
“Many of the employees have been on staff for a long time,” Slovick said.
Family and staff expressed anxiety over the upcoming closure.
Kathleen O’Neill, wheeling her son Kevin outside for some afternoon sunshine on Saturday, said she moved from Rhode Island to Taunton to reduce her commute, since she visits every day. Kevin, now 54 years old, suffered a series of strokes beginning when he was 48. The center has been his home for the last five years.
“It was a big surprise,” O’Neill said of the announcement, which was made to family members last Thursday night. “They’ve threatened it before, but it didn’t happen.”
O’Neill said she had already started scouring the Internet for a good alternative for Kevin.
“My son is young, and it’s a young population here,” she said. “I don’t want him in a nursing home. I’ll move anywhere in the state, wherever there’s a good facility.”
O’Neill was not looking forward to breaking the news to her son. “It’s going to be a tough conversation,” she said. “Kevin has told me he likes it here. I’ve felt like he was safe, and I have been very impressed with the heart of the staff.”
Taunton resident Sandy Burke said her son Richard has been at the center since shortly after a car accident left him with severe head trauma. “I come to visit every day,” Burke said.
When she arrived last Thursday, Burke learned of the scheduled family meeting that evening.
“They just told us,” Burke said. “They said it was a done deal, and nothing could be done about it.”
Burke remained upset Saturday. “My son has been here for 17 years,” she said. “It’s his home. I have no idea what I’m going to do.”
Similar anxiety was expressed by Barbara Gilligan, who travels from Marshfield to visit her sister, Linda Bean.
Bean, who is mentally handicapped, suffered neurological damage from a reaction to antipsychotic drugs administered while she was in a group home in Charlestown some years ago, according to Gilligan. On top of those challenges, Bean, 57, was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“I promised her she would never have to move again,” Gilligan said. “I was hoping this would be her last home. It’s the best place around, and she doesn’t adjust well to change.”
Employees at the neuro-rehabilitation center are uneasy as well. Most declined to comment last Saturday, but staffer Rita Chistolini called the situation “heartbreaking” for the residents.
“There are a lot of younger patients, and it’s like family here,” Chistolini said. “Some patients have been here 15 to 20 years. Nobody wants to leave.”
Chistolini has worked at the center for five years, and doesn’t look forward to the upcoming job search. “It’s 10 minutes from home,” she said. “You become established, and it’s not easy to start over.” She hopes the center will provide its promised help to employees. “I guess I’ll just see what happens,” she said.
The center’s announcement states that it will provide its residents with “the same level of care to which they have become accustomed with minimal disruption” during the upcoming transition.
In the news release, administrator Sue Gauthier said the center’s ultimate goal is to do what’s best for its residents. “The community care options available offer them a more normalized setting than the institutional care setting our facility has provided,” Gauthier said.
Chistolini predicts difficult emotional times ahead for patients, family, and staff. “When the residents start leaving, then it’s really going to hit everyone,” she said.