Care Facilities Facing Bleak Diagnosis For Future

Editor's Corner

When the WCA Home announced its closing, there were 22 employees and 17 residents in the facility of 42 rooms. File photo

Less than 48 hours into the new year of 2023, the village of Fredonia and a portion of northern Chautauqua County were stunned by the announcement of the closing of the WCA Home at 134 Temple St. by the end of March. What had seemed to be a stable and compassionate center of care for adult and assisted living was ending more than 130 years of operation.

“Financial losses make it impossible to continue,” said Christine Davis Mantai, WCA Home board president on Jan. 2. “The decision to close after more than a century of excellent care in the center of the village is heartbreaking to every board member. For the past year, the board of directors has been looking for a larger, non-profit corporation to keep the home operating, but we have not been successful.”

It turned out to be the first domino to fall.

Ten months later, two additional facilities — Lutheran Jamestown’s nursing home and rehabilitation facility and Cambridge Warren — would also announce closings in our two-county region. One other in Heritage Ministries in Gerry would admit to current challenges they face as the health-care pendulum continues to take a toll on rural regions.

These closings, while unfortunate, are in line with what the rest of the United States is facing. According to a 2022 report by the American Health Care Association, more than 1,000 nursing homes have closed since 2015 — 776 of which occurred prior to the pandemic, and 327 during and after the devastating health emergency.

Imagine the trouble Chautauqua County could be facing at this time if leaders had not been as visionary. Despite plenty of protest, lawmakers in 2014, approved the sale of its Chautauqua County Home in Dunkirk — now Chautauqua Rehabilitation and Nursing Center — due to continued financial losses that were being picked up by taxpayers.

Those who backed the sale understood the unsustainable nature of the business. What we have witnessed in the three recent closings is even more cause for alarm.

In Warren, Pa., the top official at the Cambridge facility in the city acknowledged it could no longer sustain a failing model. “When we took over, the building was struggling,” Carpe VITA Senior Living chief executive Mary Walka said. “This building really hasn’t recovered from the COVID pandemic.”

Tom Holt, respected president and chief executive officer of Lutheran Jamestown, echoed those remarks in its announcement that came only days earlier. “We know this decision is coming as a surprise to many but we are dealing with harsh industry realities,” he said. “Hard decisions have to be made to keep the other countywide facilities viable financially. There just aren’t enough people, both residents and staff, to keep all the facilities open, providing optimum levels of care. We can’t be three years down the road, not paying our bills and be financially insoluble where it negatively impacts the other programs under the Lutheran senior housing umbrella.”

What’s most worrisome about the shutterings is the region’s population is not getting any younger. According to the U.S. Census figures for Warren and Chautauqua counties show a combined population of 163,835. About 22.4% of the residents — or 36,800 — are 65 or older.

Lisa Haglund, president and chief executive officer of Heritage Ministries, told the Chautauqua County Legislature’s Human Services and Planning and Economic Development Committees this week that even though they have added residents at their operation, reimbursement rates are a losing proposition. For each Medicaid patient, the operation loses $130 a day. It loses another $100 per day for each assisted-living patient.

Though the organization broke even in 2021 in terms of $6.98 million in both revenue and expenses, there were signs in recent years of fiscal struggles that included a liquidation auction in September. “We need to diversify,” Haglund told the county committees. “We were at risk prior to the pandemic. … We need to be aware of that and we need to be very transparent about that. There’s no sugarcoating where we’re at.”

Rural hospitals across the nation have been downsizing while hemorrhaging for years due to financial concerns. Many have discontinued operations in recent years while others have greatly reduced services.

Now, care facilities are feeling the pinch — in our area and nationwide. Some are closing their doors while others are just trying to stay afloat.

It seems as though that is the all-too-common outcome for an evolving health-care sector. That is far from reassuring.

John D’Agostino is the editor of The Post-Journal, OBSERVER and Times Observer in Warren. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 716-487-1111, ext. 253.


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