Last month, the operators of Rivington House went public with their plan to close the nursing home for AIDS patients after 20 years on the Lower East Side. VillageCare officials said it no longer made sense to keep the facility open because, in an era in which AIDS victims are living longer, the center has been half empty for a few years.
This week representatives from VillageCare went before the human services committee of community Board 3 to explain what will potentially happen to the converted school building at 45 Rivington St. that has served as Rivington House since 1995. Matthew Lesieur, director of public policy, said the organization sought, unsuccessfully, to turn the center into an assisted care facility for AIDS patients.
Legislation making the conversion possible was approved by the State Legislature three years ago but vetoed by Governor Cuomo. The state also blocked a proposal to convert Rivington House to a nursing home for the general population. The governor has pledged to reduce Medicaid-supported nursing home beds by 5,000, creating an inhospitable environment for institutions in need of a lifeline. It’s part of a strategy to support home-based care for more seniors, rather than relying on large nursing home facilities.
As we reported last month, Rivington House was purchased in 1993 for $1,550,000. The agreement stated that the building’s use would be “limited in perpetuity to a not-for-profit ‘residential health care facility.’ ” VillageCare took out a $72 million state loan to pay for the conversion of the building from a school to a medical facility.
At Tuesday’s meeting, CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer alluded to fears expressed in the local community that 45 Rivington St. could potentially be snapped up by a developer of luxury housing. “At the time of our first call,” she said, “I think you were looking for the highest bidder. I think you weren’t aware of this deed, probably. When I spoke to you, you did not know about the restrictions.”
Lesieur said VillageCare is now focused on changing the terms of the deed, asking the city to drop the not-for-profit requirement. “There are a lot of health care providers,” he explained, “but they are profit driven, throughout the country, who would readily grab and buy the building and maintain it as a nursing home.” Lesieur said the organization needs to figure out how to pay off the Rivington House mortgage and how to deal with “pension obligations.” He indicated that preliminary conversations have taken place with the local City Council representative. “We’ve been working with Margaret Chin’s office and she is very receptive to the idea,” Lesieur said. “If we can get a for-profit provider in there we can maintain the building as a nursing home.”
This afternoon, Chin told us she met with VillageCare officials to learn more about Rivington House’s predicament, but she did not express support for changing the non-profit requirement in the deed. Chin said she wanted the community board to weigh in and wants more facts before moving forward. Her office has reached out to the mayor’s office and city agencies to find out what options might be available. Members of the human services committee expressed reservations about turning the facility into a for-profit venture. They passed a resolution calling for a collaborative effort with local elected officials to find a solution that will keep Rivington House as a community asset.
There were about 100 remaining residents at Rivington House last month. That number has now been reduced to 15, as VillageCare works on moving them to other facilities and, in some cases, to private residences. The closure, at the end of November, will lead to the layoff of about 230 staff members.
Editorial note: This story, including the headline, has been modified to more strongly emphasize that VillageCare hopes to alter the deed for the Rivington House building, paving the way for the sale of the property to a “for-profit” operator. The change was made after VillageCare officials contacted The Lo-Down to reiterate that the organization as a whole would never seek to drop its non-profit status; it is only trying to change the status of the Lower East Side building. The story has also been changed to reflect the fact that city, not state, officials would need to approve a change in the deed. Finally, Rob Goldman, director of corporate communications, stated in an email message, “suffice to say we have always been aware of and sensitive to the restrictions on the deed.” When asked last month whether the sale restrictions on the building were still in place, Goldman told The Lo-Down he did not know the answer to that question.