Rehab center closure leaves uncertain future for residents

Westport Rehabilitation Complex. Taken June 19, 2019 in Westport, CT.

Westport Rehabilitation Complex. Taken June 19, 2019 in Westport, CT.

Lynandro Simmons /Hearst Connecticut Media

WESTPORT — The Westport Rehabilitation Complex community was met with surprise when they were informed the facility they call home would be closing.

In a letter obtained by the Westport News from a relative of a resident at the facility, the center notified occupants on May 22 of its plans to file an application with the state to cease operations by late 2019.

The relative, who requested to remain anonymous, said the note was handed to her elderly family member after staff hours.

“Family members hadn’t even been contacted. Nobody knew anything about it,” she claimed, adding no social worker was there to assist those needing help reading the note.

Families and caretakers were later invited to a June 3 meeting at the building to discuss the closure process.

“This is devastating them,” the resident recalled of the meeting, adding many have lived at the center for several years. For now, the relative is holding off from removing the resident from the center.

The facility is not without its faults.

In May, the 120-bed skilled nursing complex was fined $8,120 following the discovery of money being taken from residents’ trust funds and another incident in which a resident was injured.

The building is also in need of refurbishment, and its current use does not produce sufficient revenue to allow for major renovations, according to Leonard Braman, the attorney for the owners 1 Burr Road LLC.

This prompted the group to submit a pre-application to turn the property into a high-end hotel, which the Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed on June 6.

The news of a possible hotel came as a surprise to the relative and her family member at the facility.

“I was livid when I saw that’s what they wanted to do with that facility,” she said. “It reads to me that they don’t care.”

The rehab complex plans to submit a certificate of need application for ceasing operations in late 2019, according to the letter, which will be filed with Connecticut Department of Social Services.

David Dearborn, communications director for DSS, said there is a statutory process governing how and if a skilled nursing facility can close. After a letter of intent is received, his department reviews the CON application and determines whether the facility may close.

“This decision depends, in part, on availability of nursing facility beds in the geographical area,” Dearborn said. “Generally, requests by nursing facilities to close results in approvals to do so.”

During this process, DSS collaborations with the Department of Public Health and also the state Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office, which is affiliated with the state Department of Rehabilitation Services.

“In the event of closure approval, our agencies work together with the facility, residents and family members in discharge and transfer planning,” Dearborn said.

Residents could be relocated to other nursing homes in the area or a community home setting through state’s “Money Follows the Person” program, he said.

A public hearing is scheduled at the facility at 10 a.m. on Friday. The hearing will be convened by DSS and provide an opportunity for input and comment, Dearborn said.

Sue Stuckless, a former social worker at the Westport rehab center, said in this type of facility, aides often become like family to residents, and the news of closure could cause stress for elderly residents.

“If made better, it needs to be done the right way,” Stuckless said, “where you are mindful and you are aware of the trauma you’re going to cause.”

News of the closure introduces legal hurdles, as well.

Westport-Weston Probate Judge Lisa Wexler said in a nursing home there can be both voluntary and involuntarily “conserved” residents.

A person is conserved when they cannot properly provide for their own personal needs. According to Connecticut General Statutes 45a-650, when someone is conserved, they are subject to court oversight.

“That means there are certain things a conservator can’t do without court approval,” Wexler said. “One of them is they can’t move a conserved person anywhere without court approval. A court has to know where they are at all times.”

Wexler has already held hearings for some of the residents at the facility. Typically she rules in favors of conserved residents who don’t want to move, but with the facility closing, options are limited.

Now, many of these residents may have to find new homes.

“You’re talking about some of the most vulnerable people,” Wexler said. “We have to make sure we treat them right.”

R.B. Bridges, a representative for the operator of the facility, said there are currently 80 residents there, and six other facilities in Connecticut that could house them.

“What we have told the residents is we have bed capacity in our other facilities,” he said. “They are welcome to move to those facilities when they want throughout this process.”

Bridges said the Western Rehabilitation Center in Danbury was a nearby location that could accommodate them, adding the Westport facility was following state procedures throughout the process of closing.

“It’s not necessarily how we’d prefer to do it, but we have to do their methods,” Bridges said.