By G. Michael Dobbs
HOLYOKE – At a special meeting of the City Council on March 18, Mayor Alex Morse gave a status report on the Geriatric Authority of Holyoke (GAH) and said solutions to the problems caused by the Authority’s financial collapse be found through collaboration.
The meeting came about though an order filed by City Councilor James Leahy.
Morse said what has caused additional concern is the GAH has only enough money to pay its 120 employees for one more week. He said that after conversations with the Department of Public Health he believes the state may be open to helping to pay for the facility’s operating costs until May 13, when it should be closed.
“The Attorney General is closely monitoring the situation,” Morse said.
What is concerning Morse is the city’s obligation to the retirement fund for the GAH’s employees, City Treasurer Jon Lumbra said $3.2 million is expected to be paid out between now and 2032.
By law, the city’s only responsibility is fulfilling the retirement costs.
Morse asked the council to consider supporting a special act of the Legislature that would take the proceeds from the sale of the building to be used to help underwrite the retirement fund and to address any other debt incurred by the GAH. He explained that under current state law any such funds would have to be used toward a municipal nursing home operation.
Currently city officials are trying to fund a new location for the GAH adult day healthcare operation, which is quasi-separate for the other services. He said those serviced are raising revenue.
The social workers at the GAH are “working day by day” relocating the remaining residents, a number “significantly down from several weeks ago,” Morse said.
The mayor acknowledged “emotions have been high in the city and the Authority” but added, “I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault.”
Leahy said he has been receiving calls form constituents who are trying to fins open nursing home beds for their families’ members.
“This is a very frightening time, [for them]” he said.
He added, “Communications have been awful [between the council and the GAH board.] I can’t say how ashamed I am about this.”
Councilor Antony Soto said he also received a call about one family having trouble finding a new nursing home bed. He said call the GAH patients “the most frail people in the city” and urged, “we need to be their advocate.”
Soto said a closing date of May 13 might not be realistic. He added that he had learned the relocation would be at nursing homes within a 25-mile radius of Holyoke.
Morse said that based on his conversation with state officials the facility will remain open until all of the patients are relocated.
Councilor Linda Vacon said as part of state regulations the Department of Public Health will ensure the safety of the patients.
City Council President Kevin Jourdain suggested Morse confer with Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos, since Kos during his first administration closed that city’s municipal nursing home.