After 30 Years of Operation, Ringwood Skilled Nursing Facility Will Close

Stephen Mangione  Friar News

RINGWOOD, N.J. – Holy Name Friary, the skilled nursing care facility owned and operated by Holy Name Province, will be closing – bringing an end to nearly 30 years of operation.

The announcement was made at the Ringwood facility on Jan. 8 by Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM, at two group meetings – first with the friars who reside at the friary, and a second immediately following with members of the administration and staff. Provincial Council members were also present and met afterward with friars and employees to provide support and answer questions.

The process of moving the 23 friars who currently live at the Ringwood facility to other skilled nursing homes, and helping its employees relocate to other facilities, is already underway.

Although the exact date of closure has yet to be determined, the Province Administration said that all services at the 29-bed facility would cease by the end of this spring.

Holy Name Friary has been serving elder and infirm Franciscan friars since 1990 at the 7.5-acre property located at 2 Morris Road in Ringwood.

HNP has retained Trinity Health, one of the largest, multi-institutional Catholic health care delivery systems in the country, to assist in designing and implementing a plan that involves placing the Ringwood residents in private nursing homes in the New Jersey-New York region.

As part of the transition plan, Trinity Health will also sponsor a jobs fair and work closely with employees – among them nurses, physical therapists, dieticians, maintenance personnel, and others, most of whom live in the surrounding area – to make every effort in identifying employment opportunities and helping to relocate them in positions at other skilled nursing care facilities.

The decision to close the Ringwood facility is the culmination of an 18-month study by a task force assembled by the Provincial Minister to evaluate HNP’s existing services and all possible future options for the care of elder and infirm friars. The Province members voted on and approved the new skilled nursing and health care model at the 2017 Chapter.

Economic Pressures
“This was a deliberative, measured and comprehensive process that involved site visits, dialogue with all stakeholders, consultation with independent experts, careful thought, and purposeful reflection,” Kevin said.

“Based on financial forecasts and the recommendations and conclusions of independent consultants, it was crystal clear that it is no longer economically feasible for Holy Name Province to own and operate its own skilled nursing facility for a number of reasons – but primarily because the gap between the Medicaid reimbursement rate and the actual cost of treatment and care has widened dramatically, and will continue to do so,” he explained.

“This was a pragmatic and necessary decision, albeit a difficult one. Although driven by the economic realities of elder care and health care, rest assured that we made this decision mindful of our elder and infirm friars in terms of continuity of care and future needs, and of our loyal employees in terms of helping them transition to new positions,” the Provincial Minister added.

Like all skilled nursing care facilities in New Jersey, HNP receives the Medicaid reimbursement rate for each bed at Holy Name Friary. Province resources have always made up the difference between Medicaid reimbursement and actual cost of care. But the widening gap, coupled with the cost of maintaining the building and grounds, has created greater economic pressures.

“Operating a small facility is just not economically prudent or sustainable with below-cost Medicaid reimbursement. With 29 beds, Holy Name Friary falls far short of the 174 beds needed just to operate at a break-even point under the current Medicaid reimbursement rate. The numbers illustrate that it hasn’t been economically feasible to operate this facility for quite some time,” Kevin said.

“We are grateful to all of the volunteers, donors and benefactors of Holy Name Friary, and we look forward to their continued assistance and support when it comes to caring for our elder and infirm friars – those who have spent decades in ministry serving others and now need our help in their twilight years,” he added.

Staff Lauded for Compassion and Dedication
The Provincial Minister also made it clear at the Tuesday morning meetings that closing Holy Name Friary was not a reflection on performance and service of the administration and staff.

“The administration and staff have always provided exceptional care for our senior and infirm friars. They have been incredibly effective in meeting rigorous standards not only in the state, but nationally, as evidenced in Holy Name Friary consistently receiving the highest accreditation and grades from state and federal regulatory agencies for quality of care, staffing and safety,” Kevin said.

“Their dedication and compassion for our brothers has always been central to the care provided by our partners – the staff and administration,” he added.

The sincerity of their compassion and dedication could not have been more evident when Kevin opened the floor to questions after announcing to the employees that the facility would be closing.

“It was deeply moving that all of their questions expressed concern about our friars. That tells you everything you need to know about the men and women who have been caring for our brothers. They are a remarkable group,” he said.

HNP will implement a new elder care and health care model moving forward that will better serve senior and infirm friars and utilize resources more efficiently.

“The existing model served us well for nearly 30 years, but we have developed a more sustainable paradigm of care that will continue the highest quality of services for elder and infirm friars in a respectful environment that preserves our Franciscan identity and fraternity throughout the aging process,” said Kevin, who assured that the transition for current friars receiving care will be seamless and uninterrupted, and will be coordinated with the utmost dignity and sensitivity.

Under the new model, friars who currently reside at the Ringwood friary will move to private skilled nursing facilities that not only provide exceptional medical care, “but equally and vitally important,” says Kevin, “respect our Franciscan religious heritage and traditions by enabling daily opportunity for common prayer, meals, the Eucharist, and fraternal life among the friars in residence.”

Trinity Health will provide its expertise and counsel throughout this process and has already identified and presented facilities that meet the Province’s criteria and values.

Moving Forward
The new model of caring for elderly and infirm Province members in the future will have friars living in their friary residences until they require nursing and health care that exceed what the local fraternal community is capable of providing. When skilled care is necessary, it is envisioned that the friar will move to a care center within reasonable proximity to a friary or other local Franciscan fraternity, so that they can continue their religious life among their brothers, friends, parishioners and family members.

“It will be incumbent upon the local friaries to maintain fraternal ties to elder and infirm friars at skilled nursing facilities – and the plan moving forward, ideally, is to have at least two, three or more friars residing at a particular facility,” Kevin said.

Although the current community of elder and infirm friars at Holy Name Friary would likely be reconfigured, the friars will move together – at minimum, in pairs – to their new homes in reasonable proximity to Franciscan friaries and other local fraternities.

“The greatest concern of our current elder and infirm friars, and understandably so, is where they are going, how they will be cared for, and how they will be able to continue their religious life and fraternal bonds,” Kevin explained. “Rest assured, we are making this transition without compromising the health care needs or the fraternal life of our brothers. We can say with confidence that this is the most economically prudent and necessary course of action – and, most importantly, a sound decision for our friars in need of skilled nursing and health care.”

The Provincial Minister and other HNP leadership met with residents and staff members at the Ringwood facility to present the transition plan for employees and for existing elder and infirm friars, and to outline the new model moving forward for friars in need of nursing in the future.

After 18 months of evaluation and study, the task force explored four other options, none of which was feasible for the future elder and health care of friars – which is an issue of major concern for the Province since there is a large population of friars over age 70.

Other Options Fall Short
The report submitted to the Provincial Council cited the possibility of merging the Ringwood friary with a larger independent organization that would assume operation – a concept that was explored, but whose potential partners said 29 beds was not feasible. The report also cited the option of decertifying the Ringwood facility and operating it independently of Medicaid compliance and forfeiting Medicaid reimbursement, but this would have placed unsustainable financial stress on the Province.

Additionally, the report cited the possibility of expanding the number of beds at Holy Name Friary, but the Province has neither the financial resources nor the land for an undertaking of this magnitude. Maintaining the status quo also was an option that eventually would drain Province resources.

“As painful as it is, the only viable option is to close the friary and provide the most cost-effective option that respects the values of our religious life and takes good care of our brothers,” Kevin said. “Part of being a Franciscan is being an itinerant, and that includes even our friars in need of care. No single place is considered permanent – and in that spirit, our elder and infirm brothers will be on the move for the better.”

In addressing the friars in the chapel at the Ringwood facility, Kevin said, “This indeed is a challenging moment. There is no hiding the sadness that comes with this announcement. But it is a challenge that I put before you as Friars Minor, confident that you will respond as you have to past challenges. Francis describes perfect joy as being able to empty oneself for the good of others.”

He added, “We are used to challenges, letting go and sacrifices. But there is one thing that we never let go of – and that’s the fraternal bonds that join us as brothers and have called us into the relationship with our God.”

William DeBiase, OFM, a resident at the Ringwood facility, put a difficult moment into perspective when he shared his thoughts with the entire group before the meeting ended. “Every time I have gotten comfortable in a place, I would suddenly get a letter or a telephone call – and I was on the move, always winding up at a happier place. So this is a joyful moment [for us as Franciscans] because it will take us somewhere else and let us experience something different.”

— Stephen Mangione is a long-time public relations executive and frequent contributor to HNP Today.

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