Marvin Querry, 86, was on his tractor, planting rye on his 770-acre western Missouri closes, when the call arrived in early November.
She was the social worker at Barone Alzheimer’s Care Center, where Querry’s wife, Diane, resides. The facility would close due to financial difficulties, she said, reading a statement.
It was an agonizing moment for Querry, a retired physics professor and former executive dean of academic affairs at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “I was stunned,” he said. “Where could I find another such wonderful place to take care of Diane?” “
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It’s rare to hear people talk about a nursing home as they talk about this 40-bed facility in Nevada, Missouri, a town of nearly 8,300 people near the Kansas border: with deep affection , respect and gratitude.
“We couldn’t ask for a more loving and caring staff than those who work at Barone,” wrote a woman whose mother lives there on a petition to save the establishment. In a business with constant turnover, many Barone staff have been there for five years or more.
“The care there is beyond words,” said Kay Stevens, whose 94-year-old mother moved to Barone in May. “The residents are treated so well and it’s such a happy environment.
But even a solid reputation and deep community support cannot overcome a harsh reality: the future of nursing homes is deeply uncertain as the elderly and their families shun care in these institutions, where at least 141,000 people have died. of COVID-19.
With continued pandemic-related spending and empty beds, 54% of nursing homes report operating in financial loss, according to a national survey released in June by the American Health Care Association, a professional long-term care organization. . Only a quarter are convinced they can make it through the next year or beyond. So far, 134 nursing homes have closed in 2021, in addition to 170 closings in 2020.
Although funding for COVID relief has helped many nursing homes in the short term, “things are much more uncertain going forward,” said David Grabowski, professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School.
Barone’s fortune reflects these broader trends. Before the pandemic, all 40 beds were full and there was a waiting list of 25 people. About 60% of patients paid for their care privately; the remaining 40% was on Medicaid, the government’s program for the poor. The facility was making money, but not a lot.
Then COVID began to circulate, and an outbreak of 32 COVID cases and four associated deaths in the weeks after Thanksgiving in 2020 created enormous stress. Querry’s wife Diane, 76, was among the residents who fell ill, but has recovered.
Between January and October of this year, Barone’s financial losses amounted to $ 675,318, according to data from William Denman, the Nevada city treasurer, who owns the facility. Even more alarmingly, another city-owned nursing home, the Moore-Few Care Center, which has 108 licensed beds, has lost more than $ 1.1 million in the same period.
Moore-Few, which does not include a locked area for dementia patients, experienced a COVID outbreak after a staff member came to work with symptoms in October 2020. Over the following weeks, 47 residents contracted the virus and 10 died. A subsequent investigation resulted in an “immediate danger” citation from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a signal of serious problems that pose a risk to residents and demands swift action, and a fine of $ 144,693. Investigators found the nursing home had failed to properly screen staff for COVID or prevent people with symptoms from working.
Since then, about half of Moore-Few’s beds have remained empty.
Financial and operational problems like this “cannot continue,” said Denman, a retired businessman who grew up in Nevada. “We’re going to lose these two houses if we don’t do something soon. “
But there is considerable controversy over how to move forward.
Marvin Querry became an activist – a role he never planned to play at this point in life – leading the opposition to Barone’s shutdown.
The day after he learned of the proposal to close the house, Querry asked several pointed questions at a meeting of a five-member board that oversees nursing homes in Nevada. Over 100 community members attended this meeting, many of them angry and distressed. The council ended up tabling plans to vote on closing the house for the time being.
A few days later, with the help of his daughter, Querry created a change.org online petition demand detailed financial information on Nevada nursing homes and protest Barone’s shutdown. In one month, he had collected more than 1,500 signatures.
Diane and Marvin Querry, pictured in 2018, have been married for 47 years. Diane lived at Barone Alzheimer’s Care Center in Nevada, Missouri for two years.(Paule George)
In addition, Querry attended city council meetings and ran ads in the local newspaper three times a week featuring the petition: “I spent almost $ 3,000 on these ads. I am willing to spend $ 30,000 – or more – because the care [at Barone] is unmatched.
He wants nothing less for Diane, 76, to whom he has been married for 47 years and who has lived in Barone for two years. Every evening, Querry goes there to feed his dinner.
Karen Hertzberg, local owner Furniture store and whose husband, Steve, 68, moved to Barone in September, is equally convinced to save the establishment. “We need time for conversation, for research, to find funding,” she told me. Steve has severe multiple sclerosis with associated cognitive dysfunction and is completely dependent on assistance.
One option could be a new tourist tax that would pay for long-term care facilities owned by the city of Nevada. When the city’s hospital struggled financially several years ago, voters passed a dedicated tax. It brings in about $ 800,000 a year to the hospital, whose financial difficulties persist.
“We mobilized to save the hospital, so why don’t we save our elders? We have to stand up and fight for this, ”said Jennifer Gundy, longtime Nevada resident and executive director of On My Own, a center that helps seniors and people with disabilities live independently.
But what if current trends continue beyond the pandemic? What if families fled nursing homes and kept loved ones at home? What if short-term solutions – grants for COVID-related funding, contributions from donors, new city funding – don’t make up for financial shortfalls for long?
In the face of controversy over the potential closure of the Barone Care Center, four members of the Nevada long-term care board have resigned. While four new members joined the board in mid-December, the Moore-Few director and up to a dozen staff members also tendered their resignations. The feeling of crisis seems more acute than before.
Officials are sending mixed messages. “Our intention is to do whatever needs to be done and to keep absolutely [Barone] open, ”said Nevada Mayor George Knox. “I don’t think anything has been decided yet,” said Judy Campbell, who chairs the city’s long-term care council. “We just have to go back to square one and see if there is any chance of keeping Barone alive.”
In the meantime, community members are determined not to back down. “I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I’m not giving up,” Querry said. “I will do whatever I can to save this place which is so important to all of us.”