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Benjamin Healthcare supporters celebrate receivership of facility

Look for a road to recovery under new management

Avery Bleichfeld
Benjamin Healthcare supporters celebrate receivership of facility
(from left) Attorney Joseph Feaster celebrates at the Edgar Benjamin Healthcare Center with Marise Colsoul, director of nursing, and Leslie Joseph-Henderson, director of admissions, following his appointment as receiver of the facility. BANNER PHOTO

Supporters of the historic Edgar P. Benjamin Healthcare Center celebrated last week as a court-appointed receiver announced plans to grapple with tangled finances and stabilize workplace management at the Mission Hill nursing home.

The steps were announced by attorney Joseph Feaster, who was appointed as receiver of the facility, at a press conference held at the center April 5 that doubled as a victory lap.

Feaster took leadership of the Edgar Benjamin April 3, after a Suffolk Superior Court judge found a state of emergency at the facility and ruled in favor of a receiver.

“I’m going to take the responsibility but not take the blame,” Feaster said of the center’s current situation.

The ruling came in response to allegations of mismanagement at the facility, including financial mishandling that resulted in multiple instances of missed payroll since November, most recently at the end of March when employee checks bounced. In addition, two staff called out on the night shift, leaving the facility understaffed, and not for the first time in recent months.

Recent action around the nursing home started earlier this year when former CEO Tony Francis, who was removed with the receivership order, announced the administration’s intention to close the facility in mid-February.

At last week’s press conference, Feaster said that understanding and stabilizing the center’s finances are his primary focus. In the coming weeks and months, he also has to hire a licensed administrator for the facility and plans to review all the facility’s contracts and make other hires, like bringing on a security guard for the facility.

He’s also looking to find another company to handle payroll, after the facility’s former vendor, ADP, stopped working with the Benjamin.

According to affidavits in the lawsuit that led to Feaster’s appointment, a number of vendors that had worked with the center cut ties or stopped offering services in recent months due to non-payment. That left residents’ wheelchairs broken, scales uncalibrated and computers not updated.

As he does the work, Feaster said, he intends to cooperate and do what he can to help the attorney general’s office, which is taking its own look into the center’s financial management in recent years.

In an emailed statement to the Banner, Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell said her office will “continue to look into allegations of financial mismanagement and non-compliance with its nonprofit filing obligations.”

Feaster said the tangled finances stem from the place being “run like a dictatorship.”

Sen. Liz Miranda speaks to staff and residents of the Edgar Benjamin Healthcare Center at a press conference April 5. Miranda celebrated the appointment of attorney Joseph Feaster as receiver of the facility, a milestone in a fight that she said some called impossible. BANNER PHOTO

“When one person controls all the finances within an organization, that’s troubling,” Feaster said. “That results in things happening, and so I’ve got to get through all of those things and to find out if there were any improprieties that were done.”

The appointment of a receiver doesn’t immediately fix the center’s financial situation, nor does it guarantee the facility’s ongoing survival.

Currently, there is no money in the Benjamin’s till, Feaster said, not even enough to make payroll on April 5 or April 12. Some outside organizations, like MassHealth and Upham’s Community Care, offered to support advances for payroll, he said.

In remarks at the press conference, he said that the question of whether the Benjamin can continue to operate can’t be answered yet, but said he is approaching the situation with an intent to keep the facility running.

“I’m not coming here in order to look to dissolve this organization. I’m looking to come here to see whether this organization can be sustained,” Feaster said.

Supporters and elected officials at the conference were optimistic that under new leadership, the facility will be able to continue its operations.

“We believe that there’s a clear path forward towards stabilization at this facility. We can save the Benjamin,” said state Sen. Liz Miranda, whose 2nd Suffolk district includes the facility.

For those elected officials, as well as about 30 assembled residents and staff, Friday’s press conference was a celebration of a milestone in a fight that they said didn’t always receive votes of confidence.

“[When] we started this fight, everyone, including those that are now on our side but initially on the other side, said that the appointment of a receiver was impossible,” Miranda said.

Officials also used the moment to praise the Edgar Benjamin community for their continued fight for the facility.

Oren Sellstrom, an attorney with Lawyers for Civil Rights, said the residents, as well as staff members, many of whom continued to show up for work even when they weren’t paid, were the “real heroes and heroines of this story.”

State Rep. Sam Montaño, who represents Mission Hill, called the fight a “real community effort” and encouraged the staff and residents to bask in the moment.

“There’s got to be a lot of work to happen, but for now it’s a victory, and there’s joy,” Montaño said.

Amid the celebration, supporters of the longstanding facility also looked forward to another milestone they’re hoping to mark at the Benjamin in few years.

“Our direction is to do all that we can in order to make sure that the Benjamin continues and makes it to that 100th anniversary in 2027,” Feaster said.