Johnson Home residents sad over possible home closure

Dec. 1—NORWICH — Patricia Brainard dabbed her eyes with a tissue as she sat in the dining room of the Johnson Home residence for retired women on Wednesday as fellow residents, staff and state officials discussed the proposed closure of the 115-year-old facility.

"I'm upset I have to move," Brainard, 76, an eight-year Johnson Home resident. "This home has been the longest one I have lived in."

Brainard said she did not like other retirement homes where she has lived in the region but said the Johnson Home, located at 100 Town St. on the Norwichtown Green, felt different.

"The people here are very nice, everyone is very nice," she said.

Resident Cindy Boggs, 57, has lived at the Johnson Home for about six years and echoed Brainard's comments about the residents and staff. But she said she understands that the 100-year-old facility needs repairs and expensive upgrades, including bathrooms in rooms that are too small to accommodate them.

"It's kind of sad to move out of here," Boggs said. "But we have to move on."

Like other residents who spoke with The Day on Wednesday, Boggs said she wants to find a home with "just ladies. No men."

Resident Cathy Pollard, 71, said she likes the Johnson Home, because she gets a lot of support from the staff. She also has outside caregivers to help her. But if she has to move, she might want to get her own apartment. She said she is on a list for possible housing at Norwich Housing Authority.

The Johnson Home Board of Directors voted Nov. 16 to close the facility after a 10-month effort to merge with the Eliza Huntington Home on Washington Street fell through. Eliza Huntington Home Administrator Tina Yeitz has been serving as interim administrator at the Johnson Home since February.

But the announcement to the home's eight current residents and to the media a few days later was premature and failed to follow state regulations for residential facilities, said Mairead Painter, the long-term care ombudsperson at the state Department of Aging and Disability Services.

Under state law, it's the state Department of Social Services that decides if a residential facility is allowed to close. The home's owners first must send an official letter of intent to the DSS commissioner's office. The state review process could take 60 to 90 days before the commissioner renders a decision.

Painter said once the letter of intent is filed, the state notifies residents of the potential closure, the legal process, their rights as residents and the assistance they would receive if they must move.

Johnson Home board President Pamela Collelo accepted responsibility for the misstep, saying she was unaware of the procedure and wanted the residents to learn of the plan directly from the Johnson Home board.

On Wednesday, Painter, regional ombudsperson Cynthia Scott from the state Department of Aging and Disability Services, Collelo and Yeitz met with residents in the Johnson Home living room to explain the process and their rights as residents. Collelo said the Johnson Home board sent the official letter of intent to DSS on Tuesday, citing rising costs, necessary repairs and upgrades and the inability to reach a merger agreement with the Eliza Huntington Home.

Eliza Huntington Home's temporary administrative oversight at Johnson Home will end Dec. 31. Collelo said she has started looking for services she could bring in to help with administration starting in January, and state officials provided her with potential contacts.

She also will continue to explore if there is any other facility interested in taking over the home which can accommodate up to 14 residents.

"The chances are very slim," she said, "but if there's a chance, I will pursue it. My number one concern from the start is the residents."

Nicole Martin, 31, a medical certification staff member, has worked at the Johnson Home for the past two years. She called it "a family." Martin is from Rhode Island, so without local family, she spends her birthdays, holidays and many a winter storm with the ladies at the Johnson Home. She has learned their moods and how to cheer them up.

"Just to see them sad today," she said. "It hurts me."

Co-worker Michele Mirante of Norwich, a personal care assistant who also has medical certification, agreed. Mirante has been at home for two years and trained Martin. The two cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the home's residents.

"We just wanted them to have a nice Thanksgiving," Mirante said. "We just want to be a family."