Nursing home closing

Published 11:28 am Monday, June 18, 2007

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
DOWAGIAC – Dowagiac Nursing Home employees were notified Friday that the facility will close in a month, throwing more than 100 employees out of work.
The Daily News interviewed two employees. One asked that her name not be used. The other spoke on the record, then changed her mind Saturday after the staff was warned they face dismissal if they talk to the media.
"I'm very worried" about the residents, said the woman who worked there two decades. "What's going to happen to them? They're going to be shipped everywhere. At one point, after the storm of the tearful staff – 'What am I going to do? I've got a mortgage and kids?' – all the residents got real quiet – and that never happens.
"It's going to be horrible. I love those people. It's been my life. Moving is going to confuse the confused ones even more. It really throws them for a loop. Morale is (low). If a lot of staff jump ship right now, it will be declared an emergency and they'll just take them wherever. Right now, families are going to be given a list of options. If it's in Detroit, that would not be an option for me.
"If somebody's got a legal guardian, they've been declared incompetent and they can't make their own decisions or take in that information. They're supposed to be protected from that by their guardian, but they tell these residents before they tell them.
"I feel like I was lied to," she said. "The state said, 'We're here to maintain you until someone buys you.' Next thing you know, we're closing. I was optimistic. We knew it could close, but we really didn't think it would – and it shouldn't. All because of some money is owed to the State of Michigan, too. Wasn't that a red flag? How did the State of Michigan let it get to this point?"
The women noticed things beginning to change at Dowagiac Nursing Home after Borgess sold the facility to Cambridge Investment and Finance, LLC, in 2002 and Red Oak Health Care Management of Grass Lake subsequently began managing it.
"I knew something was wrong when every time you answered the phone, it was food and medical suppliers and vendors wanting to know when they're going to get paid."
The state Department of Community Health (MDCH) Web site indicates Cedar Knoll's license was revoked Feb. 8.
The page on Michigan enforcement actions taken has not been updated since April 10.
"They took money out for our (health) insurance," the second woman said, "and people would go to use it and it was no good. The employer part of what they were supposed to be paying wasn't being paid."
"There were a couple of times on payday Friday when the money wasn't in the bank," she said. "Checks were bouncing like crazy."
"We have maintained our numbers despite how horribly we've been run down because of our dedicated people," she said.
"We have aides who are dirt-poor buying soap for their patients because the cheap stuff chafes them and doesn't lather."
"As time went by and this went on, our patients got less and less quality care because we didn't have what we needed to take care of them," she said. "We tried, but with minimal staff, I've lost 20 to 30 pounds."
One said she put in 120 hours in a two-week pay period.
"On salary. They weren't going to pay overtime. There should have been two people doing my job."
"They worked us like dogs," the other woman said. "We've got a lot of dedicated people up there who just can't understand this."
"I had hope the state would not shut us down," she said, "because of the fact there's only the Medical Care Facility (in Cassopolis) in Cass County. There are no other Cass County facilities."
She sat in her garage and quickly jotted a list of local institutions that will be impacted by ripple effects from the closing and quickly compiled a two-page list.
"You talk about Lee Memorial (Hospital) and the ambulance service hurting now," she said. "We draw the labs and take them up there for them to run. We use the hospital a lot and take a lot of people from them. Where are they going to place people" after the three-day stay expected of a critical access facility? "We employ Southwestern Michigan College's nursing graduates. We do a lot of rehab and send a lot of people home, but they need some help" from an array of agencies.
"When they took money out of my check for my insurance and not paying it, I felt betrayed by my company," she said. "I work hard to make them money and to please the clients – and I think I did pretty good at that. All we wanted to do was take care of those people in our community.
"This is a country that has so much. Almost every household has a computer. Look at all the new cars going up and down the street. And the old people who ran this town can't even get three meals and good care."