Empty beds have been a struggle for more than a year at the Golden Acres Nursing Home in Amherst Township.
Now Lorain County commissioners have officially decided it is time to close the half-century-old facility.
“We’re not breaking even anymore,” commissioner Lori Kokoski told the News-Times, her voice sad as she chronicled the slide from nearly 90 beds a decade ago to roughly 40 now. “It’s an old building… It takes a lot to maintain it.”
“I feel bad for the residents that are there.”
Letters were sent Monday to the families of clients saying the facility will likely close in 60 to 90 days, just before Thanksgiving. Employees were informed Wednesday.
It will be up to the residents and their family members to find a new home, Kokoski said.
She also voiced concerns for county employees who have been at Golden Acres many years. They’ve been paying a lot more in health insurance, giving up holidays, and taking pay freezes to keep the building going.
The number of competing nursing homes has risen in recent years but the real problem is amenities, Kokoski said.
For instance, most new nursing homes have a restroom adjacent to each bedroom or shared by two people but at Golden Acres multiple residents must share.
At the same time, the Medicaid reimburssement rate has dropped.
“It was time we had to make that tough decision,” Kokoski said. “Its been a struggle to keep it operating.”
The future is uncertain for the Golden Acres property.
Commissioners plan to sell off medical equipment and furnishings but want to maintain the building’s historic integrity as it is vacated.
She is hoping another purpose will be found for the 84-year-old sandstone building. The day after sending letters regarding its closure, she had already received one phone call showing interest in using the facility.
Golden Acres was built in 1931 by T.J. Hume of Lorain County at an estimated cost of $270,000 and was a tuberculosis sanitarium.
Local historian Joan Rosenbusch said construction came in response to extensive problems with silicosis among former workers at local sandstone quarries.
“By cutting into the sandstone, they breathed the silica. By breathing in the dust, they got the disease,” she said.
Tuberculosis, also known as cosumption, is a bacterial disease. But immune system infections can make the body vulnerable to TB.
The hospital was closed in the early 1960s. It became the county nursing home when the existing home was torn down to make way for the Lorain County Jail on Murray Ridge Road in Elyria Township.
DECADES OF RUMORS
Golden Acres was certified in 1988 as a Medicaid intermediate care facility, leading to the phase-out of a county levy to support the home’s operating costs.
By 1997, there were 82 beds and as many rumors about the facility’s closure.
The South Shore Development Corp., a non-profit firm, was hired that year to look into a redevelopment of the nursing home with a “condo concept.” Then-county commissioner Michael Ross said the move was intended to guage whether Golden Acres was being “properly used.”
Closure rumors surfaced in 1998 as officials hunted for a site to house the Lorain County Visitors Bureau. Ross denied rumors that residents would be moved to St. Joseph Hospital in Lorain.
The “misunderstanding” was sparked by a Ross effort to determine the value of the home and its property, which coincided with Ohio Department of Transportation efforts to find land for an Ohio Turnpike interchange.
“I never meant that looking at the land value would mean we would eventually be putting up a for sale sign on the lawn and look at making a profit,” he said.
At the time, Amherst city council and township trustees sent letters of protest opposing any change to the landmark.
“Not only is this a traditional landmark of great aesthetic value, but it is a symbol of the sandstone industry in our area,” wrote former mayor John Higgins.
“It’s a beautiful area I wouldn’t want to see ruined by any buildings,” said trustee Dennis Abraham. “We have other areas along (Rt. 58) that are more appropriate and can be used” for commercialization, he said.
In the following decade, Golden Acres was certified as a skilled nursing facility providing long-term physical and occupational therapy, wound care, and other services. There was a changing of the guard as long-time administrator William Glowacki gave way in 2005 to Jerri Dull.
Still rumors persisted.
They intensified in 2012 when Amherst Township trustees took up a rezoning proposal to spin off 5.65 acres of frontage along Rt. 58 for commercial purposes. A controversial 1-1 decision in January 2013 moved rezoning ahead so the outlots could be sold.
The vote came at a time of financial crisis for Golden Acres.
The nursing home had been running at a deficit of $500,000 per year, then-commission Tom Williams said as closure rumors became closure debates. Williams went on record as supporting sale of the home if it would generate enough money for the county.
An agreement in August 2013 kept the home running.
County commissioners and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters struck a deal to have workers take benefit cuts, saving several hundred thousand dollars per year. Kokoski and said at the time that without the deal, the home would have closed.
“Everyone’s happy about the deal,” Dull told the News-Times. “Our workers are happy it’s staying open, our residents are happy — nobody wanted to see the home close down.”
Still, Williams projected Golden Acres would lose between $100,000 and $200,000 per year.
Township officials also speculated on finances.
Abraham opined that summer that selling the property could be good for the township because employees at the county home do not pay local income taxes. Nor did the business pay property taxes.
He also noted that the facility had seen better days.
“It’s a really antiquated facility that doesn’t meet the needs of its residents,” Abraham told the News-Times in 2013. “The building’s not up to code and I just think people could get better treatment and care from other places.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @EditorHawk on Twitter. Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611, email@example.com, or @ValUrbanik on Twitter.