Staff, family angered over closure of top-rated Gwinnett nursing home

Constantine Harris, 99, expected to spend the rest of his life as a resident at the Northside Gwinnett Extended Care Center on the campus of Northside Gwinnett Hospital in Lawrenceville.

On Aug. 9, he was informed that he, along with the 20 other long-term residents, had to move. The Northside Hospital System is closing the long-term care and rehabilitation center, a high-performing 5-star facility according to U.S. News and World Report’s 2021-2022 Best Nursing Homes ratings, to provide more beds for hospital patients.

“I don’t know the reasoning for the decision to close the facility,” said Angelo Harris, Constantine’s son. “It has left many of us scrambling to secure care in an area with an underabundance of qualified nursing facilities. I believe a more appropriate notice for us to find other facilities would have been 12 months.”

Tony Perrigan, whose mother Cledith has been a resident at NGECC for five years, agrees.

Cledith is currently in inpatient hospice care at Northside Gwinnett Hospital. Due to a difficult bout with COVID-19 and pre-existing conditions, she has been given no chance of recovery.

“This decision needs public outcry,” he said. “There are not enough nursing facilities in Gwinnett County, certainly not enough that perform at the same caliber as NGECC. This was a harsh decision to make by an organization that is meant to serve the sick and needy. This is a travesty for the county.”

Credit: Angelo

Credit: Angelo

Northside Hospital confirmed the impending closure of the care facility in a statement released to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Northside notified residents, families, and staff this week. A well-planned transition of the center’s 21 current residents is underway, offering families a period of at least two months to make arrangements to move their loved ones. A local assisted living system is offering a home for the center’s residents, and it has worked with Northside on transition logistics, should residents make that choice.”

According to the statement, the center’s 70 employees are being offered training opportunities and transfers to other jobs within the Northside Gwinnett system, and the center’s beds will be reallocated to Northside Hospital Gwinnett to support increasing inpatient needs. “This reallocation will provide much needed inpatient beds for the burgeoning Gwinnett area, while the new patient tower is being built on the Northside Gwinnett campus,” reads the statement.

Cathy Stevens recently retired after 30 years with Northside Gwinnett Hospital System, most of which was spent at NGECC as a nurse educator. She says she is disheartened by the decision to close the facility.

“The facilities Northside has referred the residents to are one-star facilities. It’s not apples for apples,” said Stevens. “Northside does not appreciate the turmoil that this will cause most of our residents. They have already endured so many changes because of COVID, now they’re being taken away from their home.”

Credit: Angelo

Credit: Angelo

Stevens explained that the original plan for NGECC was for the facility to transition into a full-time rehabilitation center and would no longer be admitting long-term residents. It was the hope of the staff, residents and their families that the remaining long-term residents could stay there for the rest of their lives.

“Many of the residents cannot understand why their world is being turned upside down,” said Stevens. “Many of them have a limited memory, but they know their environment, their caregivers and friends. They are losing all they know.”

Stevens said there are residents who have already found placements and that other nursing homes — not just those referred by the hospital — are working hard to get everyone placed. As for the staff, she said many have been placed in various units at the hospital.

“Northside is arranging for training to have them qualified,” said Stevens. “This is really to the benefit of Northside because there is such a shortage of nurses and certified nursing assistants. I understand all the staff has been promised no cut in pay. Most of my fears have been allayed, but now we will see if Northside lives up to their promises.”

In the meantime, residents will move out, one by one, until the doors close on Oct. 14.

Constantine Harris’ son, Angelo, said his father cried when he was told he had to move.

“He was heartbroken and so was our family,” said Angelo Harris. “I couldn’t have found a better place in the world for him than NGECC. If I could rate it a six out of five, I would. They handled his care so well, allowing me to focus on quality time with my dad. They would call just to tell me he was really happy and singing on a particular day. Once a month I had a conference call where I spoke with his nurses, therapists — his whole team. I thought he’d celebrate his 100th birthday there in December. I thought that was the place he would die one day, peacefully in his sleep.”

Constantine Harris moved out of NGECC on Aug. 16. Staff lined the hallway, hugged him and they exchanged “I love you’s” as he traveled toward the front door in his wheelchair. His best friend at NGECC, also in a wheelchair, rolled alongside him.

“Dad and his friend Robert were holding hands,” said Angelo Harris. “Dad told him ‘Robert, take your medicine like they tell you to. Don’t let me down.’ Dad kept saying ‘this is my very best friend.’ And Robert said, ‘I’m going to miss you.’”