Eliza Bryant Village, a Cleveland institution for 126 years, announced Thursday it is closing its 99-bed skilled nursing unit due to “unsustainable” conditions exacerbated by the pandemic.

President and CEO Danny R. Williams blamed soaring costs, low census and insufficient pandemic relief funding for the decision. 

The announcement came 19 months after he publicly expressed worries as to how long Eliza Bryant would be able to survive under pandemic conditions.

“What happens next year when that emergency funding disappears?” he asked rhetorically at an August 2020 press conference with other leaders urging Congress for more relief funding. “We need additional help if we’re going to truly withstand this pandemic.”  

The nonprofit organization’s 99-bed skilled nursing unit will close June 8, but its other elements will continue to operate. They include a home care unit, adult day care, senior outreach, affordable senior housing. community transportation and its Elder Justice Center.

“[O]ur current business model is simply unsustainable,” Williams said in Thursday’s announcement, calling it “heartbreaking.” “Our costs have skyrocketed, admissions have fallen, Medicaid subsidies have failed to keep up with soaring care expenses and the COVID-19 pandemic have all wreaked havoc with our finances and forced us to make this regrettable decision.”

The nursing home will lay off 99 employees, 58 of them union members, according to a filing with the state. Many will be incentivized to remain on the job over the next 90 days.

The senior care organization calls itself the oldest continually operating African-American founded long-term care facility in the United States. It was started by its namesake, Eliza Bryant, who was born into slavery in North Carolina, according to a published history of Cleveland.

The organization has faced headwinds since before the pandemic. In 2018, the Cleveland City Council unanimously agreed to waive the remaining $1.85 million of a $5 million loan it had granted in 2000 after the organization had agreed to take on a failing nursing facility. At the time, it served about 2,000 individuals annually.

Federal Housing and Urban Development funding supported the loan, which was part of an Empowerment Zone, a designation given to areas that are economically distressed.

“We have been a safe haven for Cleveland’s elderly Black population since the 19th century,” Williams said in a statement. “But we must evolve our organization to continue our mission. We are committed to providing the people we serve with outstanding care and programs in a dignified, compassionate and secure environment for seniors, their families and their caregivers.”

Eliza Bryant staff have been active on the national caregiving scene as active members LeadingAge and in various other capacities. In 2020, the organization was in the national spotlight when its director of nursing, Dallas Taylor, was named to the Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes.