Owner of McGirr sells property to Sterling House

Wednesday January 23, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- McGirr Rehabilitation and Nursing Care Center has been sold, bringing to an end the final chapter of what, for the owner, was an emotional saga.

Margaret Perry told the Reformer the property was sold to Sterling House at Rockingham LLC on Tuesday, Jan. 15, but she said she did not feel comfortable disclosing the amount paid. More than a year after a patient complaint led to the state shutting down her business, Perry said she has some closure of her own.

"I feel very, very good that, although it will not be a nursing home, it will be an elderly care facility," she said. "That's what it has been since 1926 and it's wonderful that that will continue.

"I could not have sold it for a better use," she continued, adding that employees of Sterling House started renovating the day of the sale and plan to open as soon as possible. "Life moves on."

Nanc Bourne, of Sterling House, was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

After the state closed the facility at 33 Atkinson St., Perry decided to sell the building, which was recently granted a boundary line adjustment by the Rockingham Planning Commission.

She maintains the whole problem started in 2011, after McGirr took in a 33-year-old woman with a "long and complex physical and psychological history."

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 several months ago, 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.

Documents obtained by the Reformer state all deficiencies found are given a letter classifying their severity -- and J, K and L ratings, or tags, are used for deficiencies constituting harm that poses immediate jeopardy to a resident's health or safety. Perry said that everything from food to activities to cleanliness are evaluated in surveys.

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 J tags were discovered. The surveyors, according to court documents, then came back in March to reveal that though the J tags were fixed perfectly and all previous violations had been cured, they discovered new J tags that constituted immediate jeopardy.

Despite all the problems that unfolded, Perry said she does not regret taking in the troublesome patient.

"The problem was not the patient, it was the regulatory agency," she said. "It was not what she said, did or accused people of -- it was the overzealous reaction to it. I can't blame the sick person."

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. She said the program provided everything from field trips to dinners.

She said the children were upset to hear McGirr had closed and their friends would not be around any longer. But she said the childcare center and Sterling House may be able to intertwine their activities programs.

"We need happy endings and this could be a happy ending for both buildings and the people who stayed in them," she said.

At the time of its closure, McGirr was a 9,000-square-foot facility that employed 32 people. Perry said it had been in her family since 1966.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311. You can follow him @dpoli_reformer.


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