Senior Life: Medical clinic change puts senior housing in doubt

July 24, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH


Photo by Anne Morton Smith Representatives of the Charles H. Farnsworth Charitable Trust and its Trustee, Bank of America, visited the Mount Pleasant Home on July 13 to present a check for $500,000 for the Home’s renovation and expansion project, intended to provide housing and supportive services to an expanded group of needy elders. Pictured are: (back row, left to right) residents Nancy Clarke, Robin Trimble and Bob Bean; Grants Administrator, U.S. Trust/Bank of America Private Wealth Management Marshall Schell; resident Arthur Jones; and Mount Pleasant Home Executive Director Merlin Southwick; (second row, left to right) residents Leroy “Popcorn” Rutherford, Josefa Montero, Olivia Byrd, Joe Howe and Julius Doliner; (third row) Mount Pleasant Home board of directors member Alvin Shiggs; and Vice President, Senior Philanthropic Relationship Manager, Bank of America Mariann L. Alford; (immediate front) resident Maggie McKenna.

PONDSIDE—Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare’s (BIDHC) recent takeover of a local medical clinic is putting doubt on longtime plans to move the office into Mount Pleasant Home—a move that is crucial to funding the local senior residence’s expansion plan.

“We’re working with the new players on this arrangement and putting together a lease,” Mount Pleasant Executive Director Merlin Southwick said of the planned move of the former Urban Medical Group, now known as Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare Jamaica Plain. “We’re assuming that it will happen.”

But Needham-based BIDHC, which took over Urban Medical last month, is now evaluating all of its pro-grams, including the Mount Pleasant move, according to BIDHC spokesperson Rose Lewis.

“At this point, our initial focus is on rebuilding the practice and making sure everybody is taken care of in the community. It’s really too soon to tell,” Lewis said of the Mount Pleasant move. “We’re going to keep our options open and see where this goes.”

BIDHC Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Liebman has met with Mount Pleasant officials a couple of times, Lewis said.

Southwick said that funding for the expansion of the 301 S. Huntington Ave. home is going well—including a $500,000 gift announced last week from the Charles H. Farnsworth Charitable Trust—and a construction start this fall is possible.

But, Southwick added, the the medical clinic is a key piece of it. That is because tax credits that are a major funding source for the project require at least 20 percent of the project to be commercial space, he said.

The clinic is “an important part of the project because our funding structure depends on having that space occupied,” he said. “It’s very important for us to have them in that space.”

Urban Medical was founded more than 30 years ago to specialize in primary care for seniors and chroni-cally ill people, with a practice that included house calls. From the start, it partnered with the Boston hospital now known as Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the parent organization of the BIDHC clinics.

For its entire life, Urban Medical was headquartered in the Forbes senior housing building at 545A Centre St., and remains there as BIDHC JP. But as the facility aged, Urban Medical began a long search for a new home.

In 2004, Urban Medical announced the deal to relocate into custom-built, leased space in the expansion of Mount Pleasant. The senior home plans to improve its 1926 building and boost its capacity to about 60 resi-dents in largely affordable units.

“For our residents to see their doctor by taking the elevator is terrific,”
Southwick said of the in-house medical office plan.

The construction-funding slump dragged out Mount Pleasant’s plans, which are now more than six years old, and it is unclear whether an official agreement with Urban Medical was signed. But Urban Medical officials continued to speak of the move as a done deal, repeating that to the Gazette as recently as last summer.

Facing severe financial problems, Urban Medical was taken over by BIDHC on June 1.

Asked what “rebuilding the practice” means, Lewis said BIDHC is reorganizing the clinic as it learns the small details of how it used to run. Some doctors left the practice, while others returned to it, she said.

The clinic’s in-house visits will continue, she said.

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