After hours of public testimony that included tears and singing, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted to close a long-term residential care center in Burlingame, a decision that will cost about 200 jobs and force 230 patients to move.
Hundreds of caregivers, long-term care patients, their family members and medical staff packed the main ballroom at the Westin San Francisco Airport hotel to implore the supervisors to renew a lease for the Burlingame Long-Term Care facility, a county-run nursing home located at 1100 Trousdale Drive.
Several residents who spoke in support of keeping the care center open claimed that being forced to move away from familiar staff and surroundings would cause stress and pose health risks.
"Burlingame is my home, I need a lot of care," resident Irene Nolan said. "I can't take care of myself. Please let us stay together. We are a family."
Creative Arts Therapist Laura Noguchi, who teaches music therapy at Burlingame Long-Term Care, played a guitar and led a dozen residents in a rendition of the Beatles' song "A Little Help From My Friends."
Several nurses and medical staff wiped away tears as county executives recommended that the facility be closed.
San Mateo County Health System CEO Dr. Susan Ehrlich called the facility "an outdated building with an expensive lease," and said that it does not meet current seismic requirements for hospitals or provide all residents with adequate access to emergency exits or outdoor spaces.
Ehrlich also said that recent cuts in state funding, delinquent payments from patients and the rising cost of providing health care were all contributing to a $9 million annual operating deficit for keeping the facility open.
Health System Chief Jean Fraser said that appropriate homes would be found for every resident of Burlingame Long-Term Care before the lease is up in June 2013. A team of doctors, nurses, social workers and psychologists would work to assess the needs of each individual patient before recommending a new home, Fraser said.
"We will not exit Burlingame until we have an appropriate home for every resident," she said.
Fraser also said that efforts would be made to place the 200 staff members who will lose their jobs at other county facilities. Those employees who cannot be accommodated will receive a severance package, extended health insurance benefits and assistance in finding a new job, Fraser said.
The supervisors said it was a long and hard decision, but ultimately voted unanimously to not renew the lease for Burlingame Long-Term Care, citing the safety of the building and the operating deficit as primary justifications for shutting it down.
"We're in a really, really difficult position," Supervisor Dave Pine said. "We cannot afford a $9 million annual loss."
Supervisor Don Horsley acknowledged the difficult decision but said it was the right one.
"I think closing the facility is probably the right decision," Horsley said. "I know it's not a happy decision."
Several residents started to cry and boo when the vote was over.
Resident Anna Tuppo said the supervisors had made up their minds before the meeting even started.
"All of this was false," Tuppo said, starting to cry. "Why did they even bring us here?"
--Bay City News