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6 Mass. nursing homes to close, displacing hundreds

Six nursing homes and an assisted living facility in Massachusetts plan to close within the next few months, forcing hundreds of frail residents to move and displacing hundreds of workers.

The nursing homes had a total of 851 beds, but it could not be learned how many were occupied.

Statewide, only 85 percent of nursing home beds are filled, with 6,600 vacant — reflecting a growing trend toward aging at home, state officials said.

Still, it’s unusual for so many nursing homes to close at once, said Wynn Gerhard, attorney with Greater Boston Legal Services’ elder, health, and disability unit.

“That’s a significant number of beds,” Gerhard said.

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Despite the empty beds among the state’s 414 nursing homes, the vacancies are not evenly distributed geographically. Gerhard said it might be difficult finding spots near where the displaced patients currently live, a priority for many.

Under state law, a public hearing must be held before a nursing home closes, and nursing homes are responsible for finding a new placement for the residents. The process is monitored by the state Department of Public Health.

These are the nursing homes that are closing:

■  Kindred Transitional Care & Rehabilitation-Highgate, in Dedham;

■  Kindred Transitional Care & Rehabilitation-Avery, in Needham;

■  Kindred Nursing & Rehabilitation-Tower Hill, in Canton;

■  Kindred Nursing & Rehabilitation-Harborlights, in South Boston;

■  Heritage Nursing Care Center, in Lowell;

■  Vibra Nursing and Rehabilitation Center of Western Massachusetts, in Springfield.

Additionally, Kindred Living-Needham Heights, an assisted living facility, plans to close. And on Nov. 17, the 111-bed Walden Health and Rehabilitation Center in Concord shut its doors.

Tim Foley, assistant division director at 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, expressed concerns about the “enormous strain” the closures will cause workers who will be laid off, some 200 of whom are members of his union.

“Massachusetts nursing home sales and closures have accelerated at a rapid pace in recent years, and highlight why more stringent oversight of nursing home licensing, ownership and operations is so critical,” Foley said in a statement.

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Kindred Healthcare, a Louisville, Ky.-based company focused on patients recovering from illness or injury, announced more than a year ago that it wanted to sell off its nursing homes and has so far sold 80. The company revealed in a press release Friday that it would shut down the five Massachusetts facilities.

A Kindred spokeswoman did not answer a question about why the facilities were closing, except to say that it was a “strategic decision” made with regret. Kindred expects the nursing homes and assisted living facility to continue operating, managed by Next Step Healthcare, until late March 2018.

“This has not been an easy decision for any of the parties or individuals involved. We have served the community for many years, and it has been an honor and a privilege,” Susan E. Moss, Kindred’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, said in an e-mail.

“We continue to provide care,” Moss said. “We are committed to personally working with each of our residents and their families through every phase of this transition . . . so that residents experience as little disruption to their lives as possible.”

She said Kindred and Next Step will arrange for residents and their families to visit other facilities and will pay for moving expenses. The company also pledged to help employees find new jobs.

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Heritage Nursing Care Center in Lowell, which is owned by Pennsylvania-based Genesis Healthcare, notified the state on Nov. 27 of its plans to close.

Spokeswoman Jeanne Moore said in an e-mail that the facility “needs significant renovations to keep up with the standards that our patients and families expect.” Heritage has also seen a decline in referrals and patient census, Moore said. Only 115 of its 142 beds are currently occupied.

Heritage, one of 31 facilities that Genesis operates in the state, employs about 114 full-time, part-time, and per-diem employees, Moore said.

A public hearing on Heritage’s closing has been scheduled for Dec. 19 at 2 p.m. at the facility, 841 Merrimack St., Lowell.

The Massachusetts Senior Care Association, which represents nursing homes and other elder-care facilities, blamed the closures on “significant underfunding” by the state’s Medicaid program, MassHealth, which pays for the care of 70 percent of nursing home residents.

The association said in a statement that the closings signal “an industry on the brink of collapse” and predicted that more closures are possible.

But Elissa Snook, spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Health and Human Services, said MassHealth has increased payments to nursing facilities by $45 million.

The trend now, however, is for people to stay in their communities instead, she said. These days, three-quarters of MassHealth’s spending on long-term care pays for community-based services and supports, she said.


Felice J. Freyer can be reached at felice.freyer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @felicejfreyer.

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