We have been keeping an eye on the fate of Rivington House, the nursing home for AIDS patients that is closing at the end of November. According to members of Community Board 3, VillageCare, the non-profit organization that owns the facility, is apparently working out a deal to sell the building to a “for-profit” nursing home operator. Under the plan, the center would become a nursing home for the general population.
In July, VillageCare announced that it intended to shutter Rivington House because, as AIDS treatments improve, the 215 bed facility has been half empty for several years and is no longer financially viable. Officials with the organization said the state had refused to allow the conversion to a conventional nursing center. Governor Cuomo has embarked on an aggressive program to reduce nursing home beds in favor of home-based care. The deed for the building at 45 Rivington St. restricts its use to a non-profit community healthcare facility.
At last night’s human services committee meeting, community board members suggested the state’s posture on the matter has now changed. The panel’s chairperson, Justin Carroll, indicated that about a half dozen companies responded to a request for proposals put out by VillageCare. It now appears an operator has been selected, although the deal has not been finalized. To navigate the restrictions, the operator would purchase the Rivington House building as a “not-for-profit” and then petition for a deed change. At that point, the new owner, hopes to run the nursing home as a for-profit venture.
One reason for the approach, said Carroll, is to avoid laying off the center’s employees, who are represented by the powerful labor union, 1199SEIU. If the deal is approved, the union would lose some administrative fees but workers would retain their salaries and benefits. A closure of Rivington House would trigger $20 million in pension payments by VillageCare.
A few board members expressed frustration with VillageCare’s handling of the situation. In response, Carroll acknowledged that, “they could have come to us years ago (when it was first apparent that an AIDS-specific facility was unsustainable), but they didn’t.” As regrettable as that might be, he argued, the best course of action now is to figure out “how some good can come from this.”
Today, City Council member Margaret Chin, who has been involved in talks with VillageCare, said the priority should be keeping Rivington House as a skilled nursing facility. “We’re all deeply disappointed to see Rivington House go,” she said, “and, also considering the loss of the Bialystoker Nursing Home and the Cabrini Center, we need to see a skilled nursing facility take its place and continue providing those much-needed services to our community.”
During the meeting, a resolution was drafted that makes the case for maintaining Rivington House as a nursing home on the Lower East Side. It noted that both the Cabrini Center on East 5th Street and the Bialystoker Nursing Gome on East Broadway shuttered in recent years. The resolution called on the state to maintain as many of the 215 beds as possible. There have been some indications that state officials might try to reduce the total number.
One member of the public, Michael Chavez Reilly, came to speak out last night. The son of a former Rivington House patient, Reilly amplified some of the same sentiments he expressed in an opinion piece published in The Lo-Down yesterday. Among other points, Reilly said he’s skeptical that each patient will be cared for appropriately in the future. During the past couple of months, VillageCare facilitated the relocation of about 100 residents. He said, “the community has an obligation to make sure they’re ok (in their new environments). Board members agreed, saying they would ask VillageCare and the new operator to conduct site visits and evaluations of the conditions in the patients’ new homes.
Board leadership declined to identify the potential new operator.