Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta’s Care Center will soon close its doors, forcing 30 elderly residents to find placement elsewhere, and an unknown number of employees out of their jobs.
Mercy Mt. Shasta’s president, Ken Platou, announced  the Center’s closure last Wednesday morning, citing the economic downturn, lower than expected patient volumes and decreased reimbursement from insurance companies for the change.
Though most of the residents were “in tears” for several days following the unexpected announcement, on Tuesday morning many of them were ready to talk about their upcoming move.
Ninety-two year old Norma Otrin has been a resident at the Care Center for two and a half years. Her husband of 70 years, Albert, lives at George Washington Manor, an assisted living facility in Mount Shasta. He comes to eat both lunch and dinner with Norma every day.
“He can’t drive outside of Mount Shasta,” Norma said. “If I move, I won’t see him anymore. We’ve never been separated.”
Gladys Gale, 88, and Marion Wilson, 80, have been best friends for 45 years. They are  now roommates at the Care Center.
Gladys has a difficult time speaking, and Marion often translates for her.
They have requested to be placed together, wherever their future home may be, however, there is no guarantee.
Emma Lou Young will turn 101 in June. She’s lived at the Care Center for four and a half years. Her daughter, Molly Brown of Mount Shasta, comes to see Emma Lou at least every other day.
“I can’t drive to Redding every day. I won’t be able to see my mother as much,” Molly said. “My mother’s roommate has a daughter that lives in McCloud. I wonder if all of these people will be separated from their loved ones?”
“We’re all feeling downhearted and shocked,” said 85 year old Evelyn Cox, who suffers from diabetes.
She explained that over the past two years she’s been a resident at the Care Center, she’s learned to manage her disease.
“Starting over someplace else will be very difficult for me,” she said.
Eighty-seven year old Dolly Hornback has been at the Care Center for seven years. She fears that a move to an unfamiliar facility could set back her recovery.
“I feel like we were kicked in the gut,” Dolly said. “They gathered all of us who were able and told us that the Care Center was closing. I have no family around. This is my home... the nurses are family to me. There has to be something they can do.”
Audry Nelson, 88, and Anne Stymers, 97, both spoke about the wonderful care they receive at the Care Center.
They raved about the friendly staff and clean atmosphere.
“I?love the nurses... I love everyone I’ve met,” said Audry. “This is the best facility I’ve ever seen.”
“The staff here is unbelievably good,” said Molly. “In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen one thing that concerns me. I just wonder if  the administrators at Catholic Healthcare West’s headquarters realize what an important part of the Mount Shasta community this Care Center is.
“It’s upsetting what is happening to the residents, but I also worry about the fantastic staff, who have given so much to these residents.”
Molly added that she would have liked to hear of the Care Center’s troubles before the decision was made to close it.
“If we had known, the community could have banded together to find solutions to save this place,” she said.
Though it’s unknown how many employees will lose their positions with the closure, Joyce Zwanziger, Mercy Mt. Shasta’s director of marketing and community relations,  said the hospital “is currently in discussions [with the unions that represent affected employees] to determine an appropriate level of response to our current financial situation.”
“Staffing... will be adjusted to levels that better reflect current patient volume and financial capabilities,” Zwanziger said. “Full and part time positions will be eliminated as a result of this decision and individuals will lose their positions.”
Currently, Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta has 337 full and part time employees.
“The economic downturn that has affected so much of our national economic picture is being felt in health care as well,” Zwanziger stated. “Unemployment rates have a direct impact on the number of uninsured members in our community, and coupled with increasing expense pressures, we felt it necessary to take this action to insure the long term viability of our core business, which is acute care.”
Siskiyou County’s current unemployment rate sits at 19.4 percent.
The decision to close the Center, which first opened in the summer of 1987, was made “based on a careful review of the financial impact the skilled nursing center is having on our whole facility, and the ethical considerations involved in its closure,” Zwanziger said. “The entire hospital is experiencing lower than expected patient volumes and decreased reimbursement and payments from insurance companies and other payer sources. It is imperative for the long term financial stability of the hospital that we close the Care Center and adjust our staffing levels to these lower volumes and economic realities.”
Mercy’s Care Center has consistently received top ratings on a national level, as well as within the CHW system, Zwanziger said. “We want to emphasize that the performance of the Care Center management and employees had nothing to do with our decision to close the unit. In fact, their exemplary performance has been one of the primary reasons we have been able to continue operating this unit over the past few years in the face of increasing operational expense and declining revenues.”
However, the Care Center has not been covering its own costs, and “is not contributing positively to [Mercy’s] operating income,” Zwanziger said. “Mercy Mt. Shasta has been subsidizing the Care Center in the amount of nearly $1 million a year. We no longer have the ability to do so.”
Zwanziger said the closure of the Care Center will have “a direct effect on the entire hospital.” Reductions in the workforce will be applied hospital wide and not just in the Care Center area.
The process of the closure could take up to six months, Zwanziger said, and the Care Center space will remain designated as a “patient care area,” though the nature of that care has yet to be determined.
It is still unclear when the elders will begin to be placed in other care center facilities, Zwanziger said, and “Mercy staff is working very closely with family members to identify appropriate facilities for each individual affected by the closure.”
 However, there are only a handful of skilled nursing facilities in Siskiyou County, and not enough beds to accommodate the 30 residents currently residing at the Care Center.
“These people live here... this is their home,” said Molly, who is in the process of finding her mother a new place to live. “They’re closing a home, not just a facility.”