Greg Rice received a phone call around 9:30 a.m. July 20 that the nursing home where his father had lived for the past five years was going to close.
That was the first he’d heard of it.
Then came the email from Rochester Regional Health, which said the decision to close Hill Haven Rehabilitation and Transitional Care Center “followed months of deliberation and careful consideration” of the shifting demand for skilled nursing.
Rice said he was too shocked to feel anything. “I was too dumbfounded and I couldn’t come back with any retort or questions right away.”
The announcement, which “apologized for any inconvenience” blindsided families and advocates for nursing home residents. It left numerous unanswered questions – such as how residents would find new homes and whether other nursing homes in Monroe County would be required to accept residents.
Rochester Regional Health sent a news release to media, but it lacked details of the closure plan. A spokeswoman did not provide additional information and did not provide the document.
The state Department of Health, which RRH said approved the closure plan, did not respond to a request for the plan or answer questions about what it contained.
When contacted a second time, the DOH said through a spokeswoman that a request under the Freedom of Information Law would have to be filed. While the law sets deadlines for a response, in actuality it can take months for a request to be fulfilled.
The sudden announcement of the closure, without seeming to involve any families in the process and with the state Department of Health blessing, comes after DOH has faced scathing criticism over how it handled the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes.
Rice said the person who called him said his father’s social worker would call within three days, and he could call a hotline if he had questions before then.
Before he could tell his father, 88-year-old Richard Rice called his son to say another resident gave him the news.
“He tells me that some woman, a little old lady in a wheelchair, wheeled down and told him that Hill Haven was closing,” Rice said. “He didn’t believe it.”
Rice said he had not heard from another person at Rochester Regional or Hill Haven. He said he feels in a way like he’s in purgatory.
“The thing that goes through my mind really is how impossible it’s going to be for people with limited income and limited means to be able to find the kind of care they need,” he said.
Rice said his father relies on a wheelchair and has some cognitive issues. The son said he wanted to put his efforts into his father’s quality of life, not just worrying about whether he has a roof.
He said his family is unable to care for him, and it took them six months to find him a home at Hill Haven.
“At this point, I don’t know what he can do besides go out to the street, because it almost sounds like he’s going to be homeless. That’s what it seems like to me right now. That’s what I was thinking this morning. He could potentially be homeless.”
The email to families and a news release to media that announced the closing said it would close in the fall. Rice said he heard November.
Ann Marie Cook, chief executive officer of Lifespan, which houses the nursing home ombudsman program, said her agency learned about the closure from Greg Rice’s wife and had not been contacted by Rochester Regional.
Nursing home closures are rare, and this is the second in Monroe County in less than 10 years. Blossom South closed in 2014 after it lost its contract with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services over a pattern of substandard care.
“Since nursing homes don’t close that often, I don’t know what a typical process should be,” Cook said. “But we do know what would be right for families, and that would be to get some sort of information ahead of time.”
Asked how families would be caught unaware, Cook said the answer may lie in the plan submitted to the state. She also said it’s more reason to strengthen the ombudsman program, which advocates for residents of long-term care facilities.
Hill Haven has an overall two-star (below average) rating from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The overall rating is based on data related to health inspections, staffing and quality of resident care. Hill Haven rated one star (much below average) on inspections, four stars (above average) on staffing and five stars (much above average) on quality of care.
Rice said he was pleased with the care his father received from aides and his social worker. “They treated him with respect. They seemed to genuinely care about him.”
But he said he felt none of them would be able to provide any more information about the closure.
Here is the email sent to family:
After proudly serving the community for over 40 years, Rochester Regional Health has made the difficult decision to close Hill Haven Rehabilitation and Transitional Care Center.
Our teams have been honored to care for every patient and resident at Hill Haven, and we remain committed to supporting your loved one during this transition.
Our promise to you is that we will make your loved one’s transition to another facility within the health system or community, or back home as seamless as possible. You will hear from a Hill Haven representative within three to five business days with more information and next steps, including a complete health assessment to discuss levels of care and support for your loved one.
The decision to close Hill Haven followed months of deliberation and careful consideration of the shifting needs of the community and a growing trend of individuals and families seeking alternative options to skilled nursing facilities. The New York State Department of Health has approved our transition plan, which will be delivered with the utmost integrity and respect.
We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Again, a Hill Haven representative will contact you within the next three to five business days with more information. Should you have concerns or questions in the meantime, please contact our hotline at 585.974.5900 or write to AskHillHaven@rochesterregional.org.
Here is the news release:
Rochester, N.Y.—After proudly serving the community for over 40 years, Rochester Regional Health has made the decision to close Hill Haven Rehabilitation and Transitional Care Center this fall.
“Hill Haven has been a staple of our community,” said Jill Graziano, RN, BSN, MBA, Senior Vice President of Extended Care at Rochester Regional Health. “Following months of deliberation and careful consideration, we are announcing the building’s retirement, but not its legacy, which our employees will carry forward. We are committed to keeping 100 percent of Hill Haven’s 350 staff members with positions throughout the health system.”
Several factors influenced the decision to close Hill Haven, including the shifting needs of the community, as well as growth of in-home and transitional senior living and health care options. Nursing homes across the state and country are also experiencing similar patterns.
“New choices of care continue to emerge as more people seek alternatives to nursing homes—a trend that has been growing, even before the pandemic, which has impacted admissions,” said Jill Graziano. “As an integrated healthcare delivery system, we understand continuum of care is essential and Rochester Regional is positioned to meet the needs of many Hill Haven residents through our wide-range of personalized, comprehensive programs such as long-term care, home care, and ElderONE: part of the national Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) network, among others.”
Rochester Regional Health social workers and care managers are committed to having personalized conversations to ensure every resident and their family feels comfortable and receives the appropriate level of specialized care and support they need, as they transition to another facility within the health system, back home or other nursing homes within our community.
The New York State Department of Health has approved Rochester Regional Health’s operational closure plan, which will be delivered with the utmost integrity and respect. All Hill Haven employees will receive details of their new job placements within other parts of the integrated health system in the coming days.
“Our employees mean a great deal to our health system and we could not be more proud of them,” said Denis Vinnik, Hill Haven Administrator of Rochester Regional Health. “We celebrate their great history of serving residents and the Rochester community. And, we look forward to the continuation of their service and unwavering dedication to our health system and the community.”
Residents, families and loved ones who have questions about the transition of care can contact AskHillHaven@rochesterregional.org or call Rochester Regional Health’s new hotline 585.974.5900 for more information.
Editor’s note: Patti Singer volunteers in health education programs at Lifespan.