BELLOWS FALLS -- A residential care facility is scheduled to open in the same building that once housed a nursing home, almost exactly one year after the predecessor was controversially closed by the state.
Nanc Bourne, owner of Sterling House, purchased the former McGirr Rehabilitation and Nursing Care Center at 33 Atkinson St. from Margaret Perry in January and plans to open Sterling House at Rockingham LLC at the end of the month. Perry said she hopes to convince Bourne to open her business on Saturday, April 27 -- the one-year anniversary of McGirr's closure.
"That would be cool," she said, adding that it would be a nice way to start a new chapter for the old building. She previously told the Reformer she was not comfortable with saying how much the building sold for.
The application for a change in use was approved by the Rockingham Planning Commission at its Jan. 9 meeting, according to Chairman Alan Lacombe.
"(Bourne) told me what she had done with other buildings and that that was what she would want to do with McGirr," Perry told the Reformer. "I told her there was nothing that would make me happier than to see the building used in that way, to care for senior citizens. It had a great history of that."
Bourne said she decided to reopen the facility because there is a great need for one in the community -- a fact she said has been discussed throughout Rockingham. She said she walked through the building with Perry last fall and loved it.
"I went through and just thought it was an absolutely beautiful piece of property. The structure itself is filled with beautiful woodwork and just has a great feel to it," she said. "I decided it was something we could remake into residential care building."
Bourne explained the new business will have a Level 3 license from the state, as opposed to the Levels 1 and 2 licenses McGirr had. She explained being a Level 3 facility means residents will be, to a certain degree, in charge of their own care. There will be caregivers in house to assist residents with activities and there will be an open kitchen and a dining room where meals will be shared. She said a Level 1 license pertains to a facility that offers occupational therapy and a Level 2 license is for a nursing home setting.
Bourne said she hopes employment will slowly rise from 10 to about 20.
"We have had a great outpouring of interest from the community, which we're really excited about," she said, adding that about 40 people have applied for jobs so far. "That has really surprised me."
She and others have been refurbishing and reconstructing the building and she said she wants to maintain its historic charm and character.
Perry was in the middle of a lengthy saga with the state after McGirr took in a 33-year-old woman with a "long and complex physical and psychological history" in 2011.
The patient eventually made some serious allegations against a fellow patient. Nursing homes are required to report the allegations to the Division of Licensing and Protection, a part of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living, which in turn is within the Agency of Human Services. In a telephone interview last year, Perry said facilities have to do their own investigation while the state conducts an inspection, referred to as a survey, any time an allegation is made.
Surveys, Perry said, can occur on weekends, holidays and at night so they are not expected. She said the state was not satisfied with McGirr's investigation and sent a standard list of deficiencies 10 days after conducting its own. The facility then had 10 days to send back a plan of correction, stating what it would do to fix the problems.
Though the state eventually concluded that the allegations were unfounded, it had problems with McGirr's investigation, its conclusion and which actions the facility took. Then, during a February follow-up survey, two severe deficiencies were discovered. The surveyors, according to court documents, then came back in March to reveal that though the deficiencies were fixed perfectly and all previous violations had been cured, they discovered new ones that constituted immediate jeopardy.
At the time of its closure, McGirr was a 9,000-square-foot facility that employed 32 people.
Perry said she sold the property to Bourne because she loved her intent for it. Bourne, who lives in Hartland, is a registered nurse and has worked in elderly care for 20 years. She owns Sterling House and has a facility similar to the one planned for Rockingham established in Richmond.
Perry has been keeping busy at 35 Atkinson St., which houses her other business -- the Hill House Preschool and Childcare Center. The business cares for children between 6 weeks and 5 years old. Perry said the activities programs of McGirr and Hill House were connected for the enjoyment of the children and the elderly patients, providing everything from field trips to dinners, and she hopes a similar tradition will develop with Sterling House.
"The children at Hill House miss McGirr and they talk about it -- the ones that are old enough to remember," she said.
Perry said she is at peace with McGirr's closure but not with how it closed, saying there are kinks in the regulatory system. She said she still owes the state a $35,000 bed tax because she did not mail in her license like she was supposed to once the state shut her down. She claims no one told her she was required to do that but the state, she said, still considered her business open for a short time.
The building was granted a boundary line adjustment needed before the building sold.
Perry said the building was first opened in 1926 as a private home and eventually became an inn before her parents -- Margaret and Royal McGirr -- purchased it in 1966. She said she had been the administrator since 1974. She added that she was also the owner, while her children owned shares of the business.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.