Letter: Goddard House closure a moral tragedy

I am personally saddened by the news that Goddard House will be closing forever in September; an irreversible decision, I believe made too quickly. (“Goddard House nursing home to shut down,” July 20.)

Since my days as a young pastor 40 years ago, continuing through my current role at the Mount Pleasant Home next door to Goddard House, I estimate that I have known as many as 75 old friends who moved to Goddard House. And today, more than 100 must move. They will not find an equivalent skilled nursing facility with the kind of care they have known from the dedicated Goddard House staff.

While I disagree with the stated criteria used by the Goddard House board, I write to my JP neighbors not to second-guess them, but because this triggers in me a sense of guilt. We as a community have failed in our moral responsibility for the well-being of our weakest members. Goddard House is closing, in the final analysis, because we have failed to publicly support, through Medicaid dollars, their ability to provide high-quality, long-term care to elders who have no other options.

Many changes have happened in the world of elder services since 1849, when the Home for Aged Women was founded. Skilled long-term care is now licensed and publicly supported through Medicaid. Short-term rehabilitation service is available through Medicare to those who can bounce back. Home health and adult day health services expand options for elders who can remain at home. And residential care will continue at Mount Pleasant Home for those who do not need skilled care.

But friends, we must not kid ourselves. We will not all reach the end of our lives possessing the health and resources we will need to make choices for how we will leave this world. Some of us will need what Goddard House has provided to elders who rely on Medicaid. It has not been the nursing home warehouse that we fear more than death. After they close, a significant number of elders living in substandard housing and unable to safely live alone will continue to need what they will soon stop giving.

Truth is, what they provide costs more than Medicaid (we) pays. So Goddard House has made a business decision not to upgrade to their 1927 building and to compete for the higher-paying Medicare market. Thankfully, our neighbors at Sherrill House and Hebrew Senior Life are doing this well. But who will look after our older neighbors who simply need long-term care that they cannot afford?

Our community has been a better place to grow old because Goddard House provided competent and compassionate care for very frail elders after they have outlived their personal resources, their friends, and often after they have no family watching over them. As we have dilly-dallied in figuring out how to best manage the limited resources of our commonwealth in a down economy, Goddard House has carried its charitable torch upstream. It will now go out. We all will be worse off.

Merlin Southwick

Executive Director

Mount Pleasant Home

Jamaica Plain

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