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Eliza Bryant nursing home closure is a problem for the nursing home industry

 Ceabe Watkins, Eliza Bryant nursing home resident, watches a movie with other residents on a Thursday morning in March. Watkins hopes a sponsor will come forward and save the nursing home from closing in June. "It's just a monument here," Watkins said.

 [Lisa Ryan /  Ideastream Public Media]
Ceabe Watkins, Eliza Bryant nursing home resident, watches a movie with other residents on a Thursday morning in March. Watkins hopes a sponsor will come forward and save the nursing home from closing in June. "It's just a monument here," Watkins said.

A nursing home that is seen as an institution in Cleveland's Hough neighborhood is closing.

Eliza Bryant Village officials announced this month that assisted living and other parts of the village will continue but the nursing home will close effective June 8, 2022. Industry experts are concerned that many other Ohio nursing homes may also suffer the same fate because the system used to finance many of them is broken.

The Eliza Bryant nursing home started more than a century ago when other Cleveland nursing homes would not care for elderly Black residents who didn’t have family to take them in.

Briggett Martin has worked for the Eliza Bryant nursing home for 15 years. She worries many of the residents will be split up as they move to different nursing homes.

“This is the longest job I ever had. It was like family here," she said.

She works in housekeeping, but she does much more for the residents.

Briggett Martin cleans rooms at the Eliza Bryant Village nursing home. [Lisa Ryan / Ideastream Public Media]

“I put people in bed. I get people water. I have combed people’s hair. I go in there and talk to them. I laugh with them. I push them down the hall, whatever they need that I can do, I do it," she said.

And in those acts of kindness, Martin has become a friend or even a pseudo-family member to many of the residents. She teared up as she described the day nursing home residents and staff found out they’d be closing:

“Boy, when they found out, there was a lot of crying and hugging. The residents are like neighbors," she said.

The History of Eliza Bryant Village

Eliza Bryant Village started in the late 1800s, when a recent Cleveland transplant, Eliza Simmons Bryant, realized there were no facilities in the area to care for older Black Clevelanders as they aged, specifically those without family members or money.

The organization provides services for Black seniors, including affordable senior housing, home care, senior outreach, adult day services, and transportation.

Those services will continue, but the nursing home will cease operations in June.

Eliza Bryant Village is in Hough, on Cleveland’s east side.

"This community, on this side of the neighborhood, is a community that is connected with many seniors," said Ward 7 Councilwoman Stephanie Howse, who represents the area.

Ward 7 Councilwoman Stephanie Howse stands outside the Eliza Bryant Village nursing home in Hough.  [Lisa Ryan /  Ideastream Public Media]

Eliza Bryant Village is Hough’s largest employer, so it will be a loss for the neighborhood and a loss for the Black community in Cleveland, she said.

Howse is concerned about where many of the low-income nursing home residents will be transferred because some facilities don’t accept people who are on Medicaid. Medicaid is the primary payer for nursing homes, covering more than 60 percent of all nursing home residents in the country, according to the American Health Care Association.

“Many of our systems were designed at the exclusion of Black people. People say, yeah you can go anywhere, but really, can you? Many times in the economics you can’t," Howse said.

Systemic racism, like the discriminatory pattern of disinvestment and obstructive lending practices 

known as redlining, has kept Black people from building wealth, she said. This later causes them to have fewer options as they get older, Howse said. Many people invest in their homes, but with resources stripped away from Black Cleveland neighborhoods, their homes can’t provide for them in retirement, she said.

Having a place specifically designed for older Black people means the residents are around many people with the same backgrounds, the same interests, and often the same culture. The cafeteria serves foods like chicken feet and neck bones, which many of the residents grew up with.

The nursing home residents often grew up in the area

Ceabe Watkins grew up in Hough. As a kid, he’d walk to school and pass the Eliza Bryant Village building, not realizing that years later he would become a resident.

Watkins is known as the star of the activities room, where he talks and jokes around with other residents, playing games like Bingo.

He thinks he may move back into his house, with his wife and son, after the nursing home closes. He is still optimistic though that someone will come in to save the nursing home.

“It’s just unbelievable that’s what’s happening. I wish a sponsor out there would reach out and hear us and help them with this place and bring it back up because it’s just a monument here," he said.

But if he does have to go to a different nursing home, it will make it harder for his family to travel to see him.

“This is more travelable for them," he said.

Councilwoman Howse used to visit her dad when he was a resident at Eliza Bryant, and she remembers it feeling like family when she would visit.

“We would be there, watching the Browns. I’m in there like screaming and I’d have nurses running because they think something was wrong," she said. "But we were just cheering on the team!”

Nursing homes are in crisis across the country

Other Ohio nursing homes may also close after Eliza Bryant, said Pete Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association.

His group represents a coalition of nursing homes across the state.

Working at a nursing home can be an emotionally and physically demanding job, with relatively low pay, and many workers have quit during the pandemic due to burnout. That’s caused pay to go up so nursing homes can try to keep the staff they have, he said.

“When they have raised the wages, it’s pushed them into the red. Then, because they haven’t been able to raise them enough, they don’t have enough staff," Van Runkle said.

Although the cost of running a nursing home has gone up, the amount of money coming in from the government hasn’t changed, Van Runkle says.

Many other nursing homes around the state are hanging on by a thread, he said. They have been since before the pandemic, but COVID-19 only made it worse. Outbreaks of the virus spread like wildfire through the close quarters of nursing homes around the country, killing more than 200,000 long-term care facility residents and staff across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Family members who could afford to take care of their relatives at home often made the choice to pull them out of the facilities, Van Runkle said.

In a recent American Health Care Association survey, two-thirds of nursing homes say they won’t make it another year due to unsustainable operating costs. 90 percent of nursing homes are currently operating at a loss or less than three percent profit margin, according to the survey.

All of that means the closure of Eliza Bryant Village’s nursing home might just be the first sign of trouble for an unstable industry.

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