We’ve all seen this phenomenon: A skilled nursing facility closes its doors with little warning to staff or residents. Sometimes it’s a quick downhill spiral from citations after a survey, but often it’s a facility that has been in financial trouble for years. Sure, there might be local rumors, but it’s hard to know what the truth is until the facility closes its doors.

That’s why it was impressive to see a press release hit me a few weeks ago announcing that Villa Healthcare was closing its Villa at River Parkway in Milwaukee in March. There was no horrible lawsuit or resident death behind it, but “financial realities,” along with physical limitations in size and structure, executives said.

In a follow-up interview with David Devereaux, chief operating officer at Villa Healthcare, he said they had spent time looking at their market and options, pointing out that McKnight’s “has written extensively about occupancy struggles.”

River Parkway, a three-star facility with high marks for quality, was no different from other SNFs in its challenges, he said. In the company’s decision to close, they worked through a plan with the state agency to do the closing well, and for the benefits of residents. With employees, “the goal was to retain as many as we possibly could,” he said.

“The way we want to operate is with full disclosure and transparency,” Devereaux told me.

In an era where such concepts are jettisoned and facts are often met with a screed of “fake news,” this was enormously refreshing to hear. Of course, Villa also has the advantage of having a second facility in Milwaukee along with other Wisconsin locations. Villa at Bradley Estates in Milwaukee may be able to take residents currently at River Parkway, and there will be a centralized resource center to provide information to residents and families

That also means that while it’s unfortunate to close the River Parkway location, no one has to relocate far away. Villa even held a town hall meeting last week that “was more positive than we could have anticipated,” he said. At the moment, 80% of employees have requested a transfer.

“We’re a company with a long-range view,” Devereaux says.

A former Beverly Enterprises executive, he’s seen his share of facilities closing, and some went better than others.

“There’s no substitute for experience,” he says. “There’s no doubt about it, not every [closing] its letter-perfect, but you do get better.”

His advice for those in similar situations is to move thoughtfully, from communicating with staff to working with in-house counsel. Seek feedback and summon as much grace as possible. That’s especially true if the company has other facilities or hopes to stay in the skilled market.  

“It’s tough to outrun a bad reputation,” he reminds.

It’s true. And while no one wants to lose a facility from the market, Villa is an example of how honesty and giving people time to plan should ultimately pay dividends.

Follow Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman @TigerELN.