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The Recorder - Farren closure: Bad deal, terrible timing

Published: 8/28/2020 2:20:56 PM

Last week I was informed that the Farren Care Center is going to close and an out-of-state for-profit corporation will assume its unique license. This is just a sleazy land deal being pushed by a formerly mission-driven organization that has lost its moral compass partnered with a profit-minded enterprise slickly taking advantage of a pandemic and chaos-filled election year.

I am a guardian for six current residents of the Farren. Over the last 30 years I have served as guardian for over 50 residents of the Farren and been appointed as counsel for dozens of others. Since 1990 the Farren has had a unique license and mission: the care of the chronically mentally and physically ill.

Throughout my 30-year relationship with the Farren, I have been amazed at the dedicated, creative and loving care the staff at Farren has been able to provide my often difficult and always vulnerable wards. The Sisters of Providence clearly created a caregiving community that greatly enhanced the lives of our most vulnerable citizens and made us a better community and commonwealth.

The planned closure and transfer to a for-profit provider will kill this loving community. The plan is to have ICARE Health Network, a Connecticut for-profit company with mediocre ratings, purchase an under-used facility in Holyoke and have the Farren Care Center’s special license and increased reimbursement rate transferred to the facility. We are being encouraged to have Farren residents transferred there. Given that all residents of the Farren have been rejected by at least three nursing homes, we really have no choice in the matter. Unfortunately, the closure plan provides no incentives to have current Farren staff transfer to this new facility. They are merely “encouraged” to apply for these jobs, at no financial advantage and no compensation for travel time and costs.

The timing of this plan could not be worse. This is not an emergency. It appears that this closure and land deal has been in the planning process for over a year or more. The fact that this plan is being implemented in the current COVID environment, with spiking numbers in the Holyoke area, clearly shows how little concern there is for the welfare of the current residents.

The notices provided to families offers help with transfers and encourages involvement in the transfer process. Due to COVID issues I have not been able to see several of my wards since March. In-person contact with staff is not possible. Tours of possible alternative placements cannot happen. Under current circumstances we will not be able to visit our loved ones or meet their staff after a transfer. This encouraged involvement is a cynical joke at the expense of residents and their families.

Timing aside, I have grave concerns about the planned transfer of Farren’s unique license. Farren has an unusual license with richer reimbursement because it agreed to care for some of the most difficult and vulnerable clients. This license and mission is unique in Massachusetts and is vital. I have been to several “psychiatric ” nursing homes and the difference between them and Farren is dramatic. Several of my wards were in these facilities before Farren. The neglect that they suffered is truly horrendous. I question if any “for-profit” enterprise should ever be given this unique license. It certainly should not be the result of a nomination of an organization abandoning the mission as part of a land deal to dispose of an underused property.

The profit motive inherent in this transaction is very concerning. From an economic perspective, money can be made in “psychiatric” nursing homes. Residents frequently have no involved family, they do not come and go like rehab patients, in facilities of “last resort” regulators tend to be lenient with deficiencies. The higher Medicaid reimbursement rate in Farren’s special license greater profits could be obtained. The care of our most vulnerable people should not be motivated by profit.

While notices were sent out, this is not a done deal. There will be public hearings which I encourage you to attend and administrative approvals which can be influenced. Please join me in contacting Gov. Charlie Baker, local legislators Rep. Natalie Blais and Sen. Jo Comerford, and the Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Monica Bharel to ask them to stop this ill-timed poor plan. Remember it is always more important what you DO about something than how you feel about it,

David Roulston is an attorney at law in Greenfield.

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