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Middleborough

Brain injury rehabilitation center to close Friday

After 28 years of caring for patients with brain injuries, the Neuro-Rehabilitation Center at Middleboro is scheduled to close Friday despite last-minute attempts between the state and the care provider to reach an arrangement to keep the facility open.

Its closure displaces 107 patients and 140 employees. 

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The center, which provided rehabilitation as well as long-term care, had announced its plan to close in September, saying it was “no longer financially feasible” to stay open. At issue were rates paid for patients by the state.

Negotiations between the state and center owner Wingate Healthcare began shortly after the closure announcement, but no accord was reached.

“The state worked very hard putting in a lot of time and effort, but the rates of reimbursement didn’t make financial sense for us,” said Wingate owner Scott Schuster. “It’s not an issue of people not trying. It’s an issue of limited resources and where the state felt they were best allocated.”

The trend in Massachusetts has been to move away from institutionalized service, focusing instead on community-based programs.

Karen Montgomery of Stoneham said she was counting on the center’s continued operation and has yet to find an alternative place for her son, Ronnie, a 32-year-old patient at the Middleborough facility since a car accident left him with brain and neurological damage nearly 10 years ago. 

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“My son has progressed well here; he can go on a computer using a mouth-stick and he’s learning to walk,” Montgomery said. “I was convinced the state and the center were close to an agreement, then the bottom fell out. It’s killing me. I’m broken-hearted.”

The failed negotiations angered state Senator Marc Pacheco, who just a few weeks ago expressed confidence the center would remain open. “It’s been a frustrating process being on the outside and watching this take place,” said the Taunton Democrat, who has heard from family members of the patients. “I’m extremely disappointed that an agreement could not be reached.”

Skilled rehabilitation facilities usually charge higher rates because patients get more types of therapy.

Pacheco said he had talked to Wingate officials, and he blames the state for not resolving the issue.

“Wingate said they were willing to move forward and provide the service, but they needed to have an adequate agreement on rates, which I certainly understand,” he said. “I don’t think we, as a state, stepped up to the plate here. We should be funding the program with an adequate rate structure, or we should go in and provide the service ourselves if we think we can do it at a more efficient cost.”

Spokeswoman Paulette Song e-mailed a statement on behalf of the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, offering assurances that patients are being well placed.

“We have been working closely with Middleboro and the families of residents for the last several weeks to ensure that each resident can transition successfully to an appropriate setting with high quality care,” wrote Song. “The vast majority of residents have already been transferred or have new care settings identified, and the facility won’t close until all of these plans are in place.”

She said on Monday only 20 patients remained at the center, and the number would probably be down to 10 by Friday.

Pacheco said skilled care for patients with acquired brain injuries won’t be easy to find. The Middleborough center also had a large population of younger patients.

“They had a unique program there,” he said. “Now people have been thrown into a situation to try and find something adequate to meet the needs of their families. There’s the very real possibility that individuals in their 20s will be placed in care facilities with people in their 80s.”

Montgomery said her investigation into placement for Ronnie has yielded just that scenario, so far. “I can’t see putting him in a facility with patients who are older than his grandparents,” she said.

Barbara Gilligan of Marshfield said her 57-year-old sister, who is mentally handicapped and has terminal cancer, moved from the rehabilitation center to a group home in Carver last week. “The [Department of Developmental Services] stepped right in and placed her,” Gilligan said. “She was lucky.”

She said other patients who have been in the center for several years and suffer from severe brain and neurological injuries will be far harder to place than her sister.

“I don’t know where they’re going to go, but wherever it is, they won’t get the interaction they got from the workers at the Middleborough center,” Gillian said.

Christine Legere can be reached at christinelegere@yahoo.com.

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