READING — For decades the Daniels House Nursing Home has offered a safe place for local seniors, with its small property nestled into a quiet residential neighborhood across from the Reading Public Library.
But due to a number of economic and regulatory factors affecting nursing homes across the state, Daniels House will soon close its doors.
Daniels House announced its closure back in the spring and has nearly completed the process of relocating residents to other nearby facilities. According to Leo Curtin, the director of the Whittier Health Network, the closure came as a result of a lack of state reimbursement and prohibitive regulatory requirements that would have forced the company to make substantial renovations to the property.
Curtin said similar issues have caused more than 30 other nursing homes to close across Massachusetts this year.
“The real issue is funding, Medicaid sets its rates, and we’re using a 2007 base year of cost, so you can imagine the inflation, rise in minimum wage, the [Employer Medical Assistance Contribution] tax, the family leave act, all these additional costs is creating an underfunding of over $30 per patient per day,” Curtin said. “The long and short of it is 99 percent of these closures are due to underfunding.”
“The tragedy of these places closing, and some patients have been in these places for years. It’s really their home,” he continued. “For reasons of underfunding it’s not right that they have to relocate.”
Daniels House is a small nursing home located at 59 Middlesex Ave that has been operating in its current form since 1986. According to Curtin, the facility was originally opened as a boarding house in the early 20th century and was converted to a nursing home at some point in the 1960s.
Whittier Health officials said that Daniels House was particularly well regarded and that the facility was frequently rated among the top nursing homes in the country by U.S. News and World Report.
The facility has a licensed bed capacity of 33 and is owned by RDG Corp. The facility is also part of the Whittier Health Network, which includes the Masconomet Healthcare Center in Topsfield, the Port Healthcare Center in Newburyport and the Hannah Duston Healthcare Center in Haverhill.
According to the Closure and Relocation Plan filed with the Mass Department of Public Health and with other local and state officials, Daniels House had a population of 27 residents at the time of the closure’s announcement. Chris Olenio, the regional administrator for Whittier Health Network, said most of those residents have already been relocated successfully and that the majority wound up moving to the Topsfield, Newburyport or Haverhill facilities.
“Many of the residents wanted to stay in the Whittier family,” Olenio said. “Some wanted to stay, so we placed them in facilities in the Reading area.”
In addition to the underfunding issue, the other main problem that Daniels House faced was its actual building. Curtin said that the federal government has building requirements that nursing home facilities must meet, but in the past they have always granted waivers for buildings that achieve those aims through equivalent means. For instance, instead of a brick building, a wood building could achieve similar fireproofing with sprinklers and other features.
“The federal government all of a sudden this year isn’t giving the waivers unless you do more to meet that equivalency, and with the underfunding and the cost of bringing Daniels up to compliance to qualify for the waiver, it just didn’t make financial sense,” Curtin said, adding that they have no way of knowing if the waivers will become even more difficult to get in the future.
Given that Daniels House only had 33 beds, its closure won’t make a seismic impact on the total availability of beds in Reading. However, its closure is the latest in an ongoing trend that the Massachusetts Senior Care Association warns will continue unless more is done to bring funding levels up to appropriate levels.
And for Whittier Health, it also means saying goodbye to a valued town.
“Whittier certainly hated to leave that community, we’ll miss it,” Curtin said.