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Lone nursing home in Rio Arriba County set to shut its doors Dec. 31

The Santa Fe New Mexican - 11/15/2018

Nov. 15--The only nursing home in Rio Arriba County is closing at the end of the year, and a public meeting has been called on Friday to discuss what one official is calling "a disaster for our community."

The Española Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center announced its closure Nov. 1, ending new admissions. Lauren Reichelt, the county's health and human services coordinator, said the closure of the facility presents a problem not only for the facility's 70 residents, but for the future of Española and neighboring communities.

"The solution isn't to close it," she said. "It's to improve it."

Preferred Care Inc. of Plano, Texas, operated the center as well as the Casa Real and Santa Fe Care Center nursing homes in Santa Fe, along with facilities in nine other New Mexico cities. The company is facing more than 150 lawsuits over its care for residents in New Mexico, including one from the Attorney General's Office alleging the company defrauded Medicaid by having insufficient staff to meet the needs of residents, The New Mexican reported in 2017.

The company filed for bankruptcy in Texas in November 2017. It sold its Santa Fe facilities this year but decicded to close the Española home.

According to the center's website, the facility was unable to find a new operator. The nursing home and Preferred Care would not comment on the closure beyond stating the facility would close Dec. 31 and it is working with the state Department of Health to relocate residents.

In a prepared statement, the Department of Health said Preferred Care is responsible for meeting the needs of each resident during the transition. The department will monitor the transfer and is tracking the availability of nursing home beds in the surrounding region.

Reichelt said families may have to travel for hours to visit residents, as it's questionable whether residents will find beds in nearby locales. She added that people could end up traveling as far away as Colorado, but even for those in more rural parts of the county, visiting cities such as Santa Fe or Albuquerque could double the commute time.

"If you're limiting family visits, you're limiting [residents'] advocacy," Reichelt said.

The public meeting, called by the Rio Arriba County Commission, aims to discuss the issues and possible solutions with the community, its state legislative delegation and the public advocate to the Aging and Long-Term Services Department, according to the news release. The meeting also is intended to provide clearer answers on the relocation and what the community can do to advocate for the center.

Staff members from the Aging and Long-Term Services Department are meeting with residents to discuss their options.

Reichelt said that if the center could stay open until January, then it could allow new state leadership an opportunity to step in.

A variety of area politicians, including Española Mayor Javier Sánchez, state Sen. Richard Martinez and Rep. Debbie Rodella, could not be reached for comment.

"We want to find a new owner who could provide better care," Reichelt said. "They may not be our favorite places, but there are people who need to be there."

According to data from the Rio Arriba County Health Council, New Mexico is projected to be fourth in the nation by 2030 for proportion of older adults to population. The state was ranked 39th in 2010.

In 2016, the population of adults age 55 or older in Rio Arriba County was 3 percentage points higher than the state average and 4 percentage points higher than the national average, while the number of adults 20 to 55 years old was 2.5 percentage points lower than the state average and 4.5 points lower than the national average.

Due to this looming age wave, Reichelt said having community resources is paramount.

"It's very new ground for all of us," Reichelt said. "We want to look how the community could help."

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(c)2018 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

Visit The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.) at www.santafenewmexican.com

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