ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ill. — The sudden closure of the New Athens Home for the Aged in the small Illinois town of New Athens, located about 35 miles southeast of St. Louis, is causing a lot of heartache there.
Residents and their loved ones told FOX 2 they just found out Friday that they only had two weeks to find new places to live.
The home has been a big part of New Athens for 70 years, even for people who never had a relative living there. Even FOX 2 has fond memories of the place.
The New Athens mayor said the home has long been a top asset for the town of just under 2,000 residents.
“New Athens is unique in that we’ve got a river. We’ve got an ambulance service, and we’ve got a nursing home,” said Mayor Joe Behnken. “A lot of local people, when they need to go into assisted living or a nursing home, it was just great to have one right here. It affects a lot of the population.”
People were “in” and “out” Thursday trying to arrange new places for their loved ones to live with only one week remaining before the closure deadline. The home’s board vice-president told FOX 2 that everyone associated with the non-profit home was grieving, in pain, and needing support.
A man whose resident wife has dementia was moving her to a home about 20 miles away.
“It is sad. It’s sad for my wife. It’s sad for all the other residents there. Some of them have been there for years,” he said. “That is their home. When she needed something they were always there.”
He asked not to be identified.
People have raved about the care for years. In 2012, FOX 2 shared the story of harmonica-playing resident, Ruth Erb, who had a deer jump through her bedroom window. Workers kept residents safe as the deer pranced through the dining hall before leaving.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, brought staff shortages and violations.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) fined the home $50,000 for failing to test a new resident for COVID-19 in November. Fourteen of the 40 residents ended up testing positive, and four died from COVID-19, according to the agency.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) then notified the home it was being terminated from the Medicare and Medicaid programs on June 14, making it impossible for the non-profit home to keep going.
The staff, residents, their families, and the mayor want to know why the home didn’t notify them the home would have to close until July 1, just 17 days later. The mayor said two weeks was not enough notice.
“I don’t know where they go,” the mayor said.
An IDPH spokesman told FOX 2 that the agency was working to place all residents in new homes by next week.
A GoFundMe has also been created to assist New Athens Home for the Aged staff and residents through their final days.