Abbeville nursing home residents and staff fear closure
By BECKY CRISSMAN
ABBEVILLE — Over 90 residents at a nursing home here are fearful that they may be kicked out of their home at the end of the month and they are upset.
New Beginnings Care, known as Abbeville Health Care and Rehab faces closure at the end of March at which time those residents would be without housing and the 112-member staff will lose their jobs.
Bennie Howard, who is the Housekeeping Supervisor for the facility says he is trying to do everything he can to keep that from happening.
The problems began when Hixson-based company New Beginnings, who operates several nursing and rehab facilities, was recently cited and threatened with the loss of government payments. This was due to accusations that the company mistreated Medicare and Medicaid patients at a 131-bed nursing facility in Jeffersonville, Ga.
State regulators decided that the nursing homes conditions put its residents’ health and safety at risk. At one point New Beginnings operated 15 nursing homes, but that number has since dwindled down to 8 with more facilities being faced with closing including the Abbeville location in Wilcox County.
According to Howard the state came in to the facility on January 21. He said the inspectors pointed out some environmental issues and informed them they would need to be corrected by February 13 or face closure.
“There were no issues with resident care at all,” said Howard. “They were supposed to come back for a follow-up inspection. Then we get a letter from CMS informing us they would not be coming back to check if we met compliance, Instead they inform us they are going to move forward with the process to decertify the nursing facility.”
Howard said that decertification means all the residents would have to be relocated, in short, kicking them out of their homes. For many of them it is the only home they have known for years.
“Our residents are very upset and feel that this is not fair,” said Howard. “They do not want to leave because this is home and we are all like family. We love these residents like they are our family and to some we are the only family they have.”
Several of the patients had plenty to say about their home such as 75-year old Josie Louis who has been a resident at the facility for over 11 years.
“I am real happy living here,” she said. “The staff is good to me and they are very helpful. I love them all and am very attached to them because they are like family to me. They treat me like I am a member of their own families. I don’t want to be taken away from my family. These people are trying to make me leave my home. Instead of hurting us, help us, help us keep our home. If I have to leave here I don’t know where I will go or what will happen to me.”
Another resident, Jeffrey Leggett, age 55, who has been at New Beginnings for the last five years said he does not want to have to leave his home either. He knows and trusts the staff, who has always treated him well.
“I am used to life here, I like it here and I don’t want to leave,” said Leggett.
Louis added the staff takes them shopping at the local Family Dollar or Piggly Wiggly.
“Some of the nurses even call me Ma,” she said. I like that. It makes me feel good.”
According to Howard, many of the residents have become depressed and withdrawn after learning about the pending closure. Some they are finding it difficult to get them to eat. Elena Barfield is one of those residents. She is 70-years old and has been a resident at the home for over six years. As she talked about her home tears streamed down her face as she reached for Howard’s hand.
“I have been telling Bennie and Mr Michael (Michael Estes is the mayor of Abbeville) To keep me here. I don’t want to move. This is my home. I love the people here. It makes me sad and makes me cry because I love my home. I don’t know what I would do or where I would end up or who I would end up with. My family here treats me good and I want to stay with them. Will you please help Bennie help us keep our home.”
Barfield’s daughter works at a pharmacy in Abbeville and due to the close location is able to visit her mother everyday on the way home from work. If she has to relocate, those visits will become less frequent.
“One day, God is going to call me home to be with Him,” said Barfield. “When that time comes I want to be right here surrounded by my family and the people that love me. I love this house.”
The closure would not only be devastating to the patients but also to the 112 employees staffed at the facility including 38-year old Tressa Hodges.
Hodges, like her sister before her, Kimberly, came to work for New Beginnings right out of high school. Hodges is about to celebrate her 20th Anniversary and her sister has been employed there over 20 years. The two follow in the steps of their mother Madelyn Hodges who has been at the facility since it opened 46 years ago. The Hodges, like many employees, live nearby and are able to walk to work.
“I don’t know what we will do,” said Hodges. “We don’t have no other way of getting back and forth to another job. Plus I have grown so attached to my patients. I love them, we all do and we don’t want to lose that.”
Hodges said that a lot of the residents don’t have a lot of visitors and some have no family.
“This is all they know,” she said. “To many of them we are family.”
When asked what he would say to those wanting to shut down the facility, Hoard said, “They don’t understand. They are hurting our residents. Many of them have been crying and depressed. I would ask them to think. All of our patients are somebody’s mom or dad, grandparent, aunt or uncle. Think about their own families. Would they want them to be put through something like this. We just want to be treated fair. We want the chance to keep this going. We do not want to be punished for where others went wrong.”
Abbeville Mayor Michael Estes says that the city is doing what they can to figure out a way to keep the facility running.
“We have a few irons in the fire we are working on,” he said. “We do not want the residents to have to be uprooted and we do not want to see so many people lose their jobs. The economy is already hurting. Closure of the facility would cause a domino effect that would impact the entire community. We are hoping it will not come to that.”
In closing Howard said, “We are just praying every day that God will step in and intervene on our behalf and find a way to keep us together.”