Rehab center residents ‘appalled’ by closure plans
WESTPORT — Laura Sandstrom has called the Westport Rehabilitation Complex home for several years. Fellow residents and staff there have become her extended family far away from her home state of Alaska.
However, in one night, she learned all this could change.
Late one afternoon, long after staff left, Sandstrom said she woke up to a letter signaling her home may be no more. She would be one of many residents handed a letter by the facility’s administrator Paul Prybylski.
“He handed me a letter and simply said the facility’s closing,” Sandstrom recalled.
The letter, dated May 22, notified occupants the 120-bed skilled nursing center planned to file an application to cease operations in late 2019.
“I do not have any living family members, anywhere. The people within these walls have become like my parents, or brothers and sisters,” Sandstrom said, adding it would be difficult to find a place to live because she was not from Connecticut.
Sandstrom joined other residents and their relatives at a public hearing Friday at the rehab complex to discuss the uncertain future of the facility. Several residents sung the praise of the staff, but questioned the communication skills of the administration.
Barbara Recker, whose mother has been at the facility for 14 years, said she was appalled at how the news was delivered. She claimed her mother was handed the letter without any staff present to assist her.
“There’s no transparency here,” she said. “My heart breaks because my mother has not been the same since this has happened.”
State Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said he attended the meeting to learn the reasons behind the facility’s closing, and welcomed residents to speak with him.
“My door is open to you if you have any conversations about what’s going on here and what the next steps may be,” Steinberg said.
David Quigley, a longtime resident, said the facility’s closing was a tremendous disservice to the residents, the clients and the town of Westport.
“We don’t have another alternative,” he said. “I’ve been to a few other places. No one has the care, the feeling, the humanity, that the staff here does.”
Quigley said when the letter was given at night, many were unable to even understand it. The following morning he saw residents in tears, he said.
“There’s people here now who have conservators and they weren’t notified,” Quigley said.
Hearing officer Rich Wysocki said a 60-day notice had to be provided to the federal government prior to the facility closing. If there was a decision to close the facility, residents would not have to leave immediately once it was made.
“There’s a transfer process,” Wysocki said. “If the facility were to close, and there’s a waiting list at another facility, residents have certain rights that could supersede that waiting list.”
Wyoscki told residents no decision had been made to close the facility, adding the center has 180 days to submit an application.
“There’s still a window here,” he said. “There’s still time to decide whether you’d like to go to another facility, whether you’d like to stay here. All those things are still in play.”
State Ombudsman Mairead Painter said the process would take some time, but encouraged residents to take a three-pronged approach. First, was understanding how they could possibly stay at the center. Second, she said residents should explore and assess other options. Lastly, she encouraged residents to see what facilities in the area they would be receptive to.
“We understand this is a very trying time,” Painter said.
Meanwhile, resident Linda Orelup said her lawyer, family and caregivers weren’t notified when other residents were.
“I find it appalling. People were up crying that night and I didn’t get anything,” Orelup said. “I don’t want this place to close. It’s my home, and it’s my family, and I wouldn’t be alive without it.”
R.B. Bridges, chief operating officer of Traditions Senior Management, said his company took over the property in 2015. Revenue from the facility was unable to cover the costs, he explained, which was mostly wages and benefits.
Due to insufficient funds, a difficult decision had to be made, he said.
“Unfortunately the costs just significantly exceeds the revenues or reimbursement we get,” Bridges said. “All of us are between a rock and a hard place. That’s what brought us here today.”
Lack of revenue for renovations prompted owners 1 Burr Road LLC 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 facility has also been the subject of recent scrutiny when it was fined $8,120 in May, following the discovery of money being taken from residents’ trust funds and another incident in which a resident was injured.
Mohammad Awan, whose father calls the center home, said the level of care at the facility could not be replaced.
“It’s not about just giving him his medication in the morning or food,” he said. “It’s the connections that are formed.”
Naomi Walters, a longtime resident, said much had changed since she first arrived at the facility — while the nursing care remained great, the building’s care had declined.
However, Walters said asking residents to suddenly relocate was unfair.
“To transfer any of these patients anywhere else is a heck of a job,” she said. “You have too many patients and too many residents.”