After learning of the closure of the Excelsior Springs Hospital long-term residential homes, residents prepare for a future in a new home.

Some of the almost 80 residents now looking for a new home said they believe this whole situation could have been handled differently. Nita Vanbebber said she believes those who made the decision handled the closure “recklessly” and she would simply like her voice to be heard.

“This is already a done deal, there is nothing we can do about it," she said. "But I would just like for the community to learn how this was handled."

Vanbebber said she received her letter via registered mail last Thursday. Throughout Thursday and Friday, staff held meetings in each facility advising residents of the closure. She said the letter said they should be out by July 1 and no later than July 12, a notice of six weeks.

CEO Kristen DeHart said because she knew the transition would be difficult, she told residents they could be flexible with the move out dates. DeHart said staff also offered their assistance in finding new facilities and would assist residents pack their apartments.

Although Vanbebber found a new place to live, she said many of the residents have not. Many will have problems finding a new home, she said, due to the lack of nearby assisted living facilities.

Fellow resident Norman Fields said many of the available senior living options require seniors to cook their own meals, a feat not possible for many of the residents.

He said the residents should have been given more notice. He said he believes the board knew of the closure for a while now and no one can convince him otherwise.

"It stinks the amount of time they have given us to get out of here," he said.

The residents came to the facility to live the rest of their lives, Vanbebber said, they formed a family.

"We’re all heartsick," she said. "This is a sad situation for us."

Ursal Leiter said she moved in the facility on March 1. After acquiring all the expense of moving, including selling her house, she now must pick up and move again. The 96-year-old said it will not be easy for herself and many of the residents to do so. She wants to find a place close by.

Leiter said she wants to know how soon the board knew of a possible closure.

"There (are) not many places around here," she said. "I don’t want to leave this area because I don’t want to have to give up my doctors. That’s one of my main concerns."

Lorene Hamlett said the whole situation affects her husband Glenn's post-traumatic stress disorder negatively. The Hamletts moved to the facility in January.

Vanbebber said her friend moved her mother into one of the facilities only two weeks ago.

DeHart said the board did not make the decision to close the long-term care lines lightly.

"The board and members of the administration team met with several advisors since the beginning of the year to discuss and determine alternative solutions that would not have to affect the residents," she said. "We are quite sensitive to the disruption and angst that the closure would cause and waited to notify until every other option had been exhausted."

She said the board made the final determination during their May 7 meeting. They notified everyone of the decision the same week.

The Aftermath

Lately, residents have sensed a decline in care, Shirley Sivils said.

Often, she said the staff provides residents with plastic plates and utensils. When they provide actual silverware, she said residents often find it to be dirty.

On Tuesday, she said staff did not provide drinking cups for lunch.

"We pay good money in here," she said. "We pay about $1700 a month and we’re getting food that three or four days old or stuff like that. I just think we deserve more than that."

DeHart said the food service department keeps plates, silverware, glasses and coffee mugs.

"We use paper when the dishwasher might be down for service, but that is the exception and not the norm," she said.

Jennifer Taylor, Director of Food Services for Excelsior Springs Hospital said the Nutrition Services department prepares and serves over 300 meals per day to groups including independent living residents, assisted living residents, convalescent center residents, patients, patient guests and staff.

"We have had several transitions in our department in the past 12 weeks," she said. "The challenges with servicing such a diverse population are many, however, our team works hard to ensure success each and every service.  We do not always hit the mark, but recognize when we don't and attempt to find solutions to fix them right away.  We are very passionate about serving our residents, patients, guests and staff and are committed to working through the challenges that have been identified to provide the very best service and quality possible."

DeHart said the department served over 82,000 meals in 2018.

Jeff Isaac said he would like to know why administrators continue to require staff to pay full rent if they won’t provide silverware and decent food.

"Are they going to cut us off from everything," he asked?

Many other residents feel the same way, he said, they just feel it would be a waste of time to speak out.

The End Goal

DeHart said the board made this difficult decision with the end goal of saving this hospital.

"Saving the hospital has many additional considerations than employee counts,” she said.

According to 2018 data provided to The Standard by ESH: Physicians admitted 356 patients throughout the year who received care as inpatients; The hospital provided over 7,000 emergency visits, which DeHart said saved many lives; 6,500 community members received medical services in ESH's outpatient clinics; The ESH Home Health and Hospice care teams treated over 500 patients, The Rehab services, including physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy, provided over 18,000 visits; the ESH lab serviced over 10,000 visitors.

DeHart said these statistics do not include the physician office visits with Dr. Pickett, Dr. Buzard, The Lawson clinic or the Express Clinic at Price Chopper.

"These numbers of patients receiving care, including our primary care offices are even greater and would all go away if we have to close the hospital," she said. "Reflect on the impact that losing Mosaic just one year ago had on this community. We already have challenges with access to healthcare in our service area. We hope that our community will support the preservation of Excelsior Springs Hospital as we continue to improve our healthcare options”.

However, the board made the decision, Fields said he believes this shows what the board really thinks of them.

Vanbebber said she agreed and she doesn't think they think very much of the residents at all.

"It's just a sad situation, it's just really sad," Vanbebber said. "I just think they could have given us a little more time, handled it a little differently.

Dehart said the board made the decision simply because they have to make changes now to preserve ESH and their services for the future.

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