Empty nursing home bed and wheelchair

Four more nursing homes in Massachusetts announced they will close, chased out of the state by a “reconfiguring” reform meant to improve the quality of care but possibly doing the opposite. 

The Northeast Health Group Inc. said it will shutter four facilities in the western part of the state by June 6, according to the Department of Public Health. Local media reports indicate that families were told to move their residents within 60 days. 

The closures add to a growing list of facilities that have shut down lately, said Tara Gregorio, president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association. Twenty-five nursing homes there have closed since the start of the pandemic, with at least half of those shutting down over the last 12 months. 

The reason for the latest closure: an April 2021 rule from the state Department of Health prohibiting more than two residents per room in long-term care facilities. The restriction took effect in May and it, combined with a severe labor shortage, is leading to an existential crisis for the sector, observers say. 

“The workforce crisis is the single biggest issue directly leading to the current instability throughout the Massachusetts healthcare system and is threatening access to and experience of care,” Gregorio told McKnights Long Term Care News. “Government leaders must prioritize nursing facility care by increasing funding for this vital service, while simultaneously investing in proven workforce development initiatives and adopting smart immigration policies that further expand the number of available workers.”

The Northeast Health Group unsuccessfully applied for a waiver to exempt it from the two-bed rule. Reporting from MassLive.com said the group’s facilities were designed for three and four residents per room. 

McKnights reported in January on a Suffolk Superior County judge’s refusing to dismiss the lawsuit from 31 LTC providers looking to block the capacity mandate. Although private rooms can provide better infection control, providers have said they need help from state or even federal agencies and lawmakers to de-densify facilities. Without the ability to build more rooms or adequately resident current ones, there are few options other than to reduce admissions or even close. 

The four facilities Northeast Health Group is closing are: Chapin Center in Springfield; Governor’s Center in Westfield; and Willimansett Center East and West, both in Chicopee.

According to the draft closure plans filed with the Department of Public Health, the health group made deep cuts to the number of beds in each facility to be in compliance with the two-beds-per-room rule. Governor’s Center went from 100 beds down to 75, Willimansett East went down to 69 beds from 85, and Willimansett West dropped from 103 beds to 74. Chapin Center was the hardest hit, losing 40% percent capacity by dropping from 160 beds to 96. 

“The cost to operate a 160-bed facility with only 96 beds has led to the facility’s financial insolvency,” stated the draft closure plan. The plans for the other nursing homes contain similar language. 

A message left by McKnights at the phone number for Northeast Health Group was not returned.