Nursing homes shutter amidst corruption, financial chaos

Advocates look to state for help

NURSING HOMES IN MASSACHUSETTS continue their steady descent into chaos, leaving seniors struggling to find adequate care as more facilities shutter, and fewer affordable beds are available.

Five nursing homes owned by Skyline Healthcare are shutting down in Massachusetts, as employees miss weeks’ worth of paychecks, and seniors endure lower quality care standards stemming from employees leaving after not being paid.

The closure was first reported by the Standard-Times on Wednesday, when a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health confirmed that Skyline would voluntarily surrender the licenses of all of their Massachusetts nursing homes. Bedford Gardens Care & Rehabilitation Center, Bedford Village Care & Rehabilitation Center, Rockdale Care & Rehabilitation Center in New Bedford, Dighton Care & Rehabilitation in Dighton, and Highland Manor Care & Rehabilitation Center in Fall River are all shutting down, and their residents relocated.

Bedford Gardens, a 111-bed facility, had started cramming three people to a room after it had to close its third-floor last weekend from lack of staff, according to Bedford Gardens director Steven Haase.

Employees, some of whom have complained to Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, had dealt with bounced checks and late payment for some time. Haase told news outlets that he’s lost touch with Skyline, which is based in New Jersey. The company is no stranger to failure — it had similar payroll problems in Kansas and Nebraska facilities, causing shutdowns.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is also investigating whether Skyline owner Joseph Schwartz committed fraud. In Massachusetts, a long-term care ombudsman selected by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs will work to relocate residents to other facilities.

The situation is not completely out of left field. Twenty Massachusetts nursing homes shut down in 2018, with over 1,900 beds lost to vulnerable seniors.

In a hearing in early April, Massachusetts Senior Care Association said up to 35 more nursing homes are at risk of closing this year due to financial problems. The group is promoting a bill that would give nursing homes an additional $70 million annually from state and federal money. The state currently provides nursing homes with less money for long-term care covered by Medicaid, but still provided them with $1.4 billion in 2018.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Advocates propose improving reimbursement from MassHealth, which covers about 30,000 people in long-term care facilities in the state.

State Sen. Harriette Chandler said at the hearing that the gap in coverage between what the state pays and what it actually costs to provides care creates an annual loss of about $900,000 per facility.