Update. Wednesday, March 29 at 4:30pm: The board of directors of the town owned Nathaniel Witherell Nursing Home convened at 4:00pm via Zoom with one agenda item: Election of Board Officer.
Earlier in the week at the board of directors meeting, the chair, Larry Simon announced his intention to resign.
At Wednesday’s brief 10 minute meeting, he asked for nominations for a new chair.
Richard Kaplan nominated Brad Markowitz. Nisha Hurst seconded the nomination.
The board (7 of 8 members present) voted unanimously in favor of Mr. Markowitz.
Mr. Simon said his resignation was effective at 5:00pm.
Mr. Markowitz became chair of the board at 5:00pm.
Before the meeting was adjourned, Mr. Markowitz thanked Mr. Simon for devoting the last 25 years of his life to being a full-time volunteer for the town.
“I first met Larry when I was vice chair of the Witherell board 25 years ago and Larry was BET liaison to Witherell,” Markowitz said. “I agreed to run to be back on the board at Larry’s request and out of respect for him. The Town of Greenwich is a better place to live, raise a family and be retired because of Larry Simon.”
Original Story, 1:10pm, Wednesday March 29: In a surprising turn of events, Larry Simon, the chair of the Board of Directors at Nathaniel Witherell, Greenwich’s town-owned nursing home, announced his intention to resign from the board during their Monday night meeting.
Mr. Simon did not respond for a request to comment.
His resignation is effective as of Wednesday, March 29. A Zoom board meeting is set for 4:00pm on Wednesday, with the agenda item “Election of Board Officer.”
Selectwoman Lauren Rabin responded to a request for comment, explaining that the Board of Selectmen nominates members and then the full RTM appoints them.
“Interestingly enough there was already an opening on the Board that we are actively interviewing for, so now Larry’s resignation makes two openings,” Rabin said.
Melissa Gibbons resigned from the a couple months ago, so the Selectmen are looking for two people right now.
Rabin said they seek candidates who have experience (e.g., medical, nursing home, etc.) and certainly a pre-requisite would be interest in serving the residents (young and old).
There are two other board members whose terms expire at the end of June – Chris Carter and Paul Hopper – though they have not indicated to the Selectmen yet whether they will seek another term.
Selectperson Janet Stone McGuigan said, “Objectivity is always important on any board or commission, but certainly on TNW board given how much public debate it has generated. I’m asking all the candidates we interview this question directly. “
Last October, Mr. Simon was reappointed by the RTM, though there were strong voices both for and against another term.
“The decline in Witherell’s star rating doesn’t fall on the shoulders of Larry Simon,” said Sheilah Smith, then co-chair of the Family Council. “Rather, we believe it falls squarely on Town Hall and its pressure to cut the Witherell budget beyond a sustainable care level.”
Tara Restieri argued against the reappointment. She said it was unfair that the chair and director had pointed fingers of blame at staff.
“Where does the buck stop?” she asked. “Mr. Simon, just because there’s ‘not a long line out the door,’ it’s not an excuse for the state Nathaniel Witherell is in. Blame staff. Blame Covid.”
The RTM vote was 113 yes; 87 no; and 10 abstentions, and Mr. Simon won his third two-year term.
At that October meeting, Mr. Simon addressed the RTM himself, promising his third term would be his last. He said his experience made him the right person to guide the Witherell to its destination, whether or not that may be privatization, over the next six months.
Mr. Simon has been chair since 2016 when he succeeded David Ormsby, who had served in that role for 10 years.
Under Mr. Simon’s leadership, the facility lost its 5-star rating. First it dropped to 3 stars then, last summer according to Medicare.Gov its rating dropped to 1 star.
Today it is back up to 3 stars (Data last updated: February 22, 2023)
Last October, the town learned the facility had $11 million in outstanding debt collection, having mushroomed from $4.5 million in June 2021.
These are tough times for all nursing homes. There are staff shortages and of course the pandemic took a toll, in terms of loneliness, isolation, sickness and deaths.
After years of operating at a loss, in November 2020 the town issued an RFP for management services for the Witherell. At the time, the understanding was that the fate of the facility was in the First Selectman’s hands.
And at Witherell, being prepared for a new operator, executive director, John Mastronardi, made staff cuts.
It wasn’t until October 2021 that the town attorney issued an opinion stating clearly that the board had comprehensive power and authority to make all decisions regarding operation and administration of the facility, including whether to sell or lease it, not the First Selectman.
Passions Continue to Run High on Both Sides
After Mr. Simon’s reappointment, the board held a public hearing for feedback on the possible privatization of the Witherell in December 2022. The Zoom had 100 attendees and 42 people signed up to speak. The majority testified to urge the board not to privatize the facility, though there was passion on both sides.
Also, in December 2022, the Witherell director John Mastronardi urged the town to continue to own and operate the facility.
“With private equity ownership, the pressure to generate high, short-term profits often leads such nursing homes to reduce staffing, services, supplies or equipment, which directly impacts their quality of care,” he warned.
Mr. Simon’s Resignation from Board of Directors
State Rep Steve Meskers, who has said repeatedly in public forums that he believes the Witherell should not be viewed as a money making enterprise, but rather as a town department with a budget, reacted to news of Mr. Simon’s resignation.
“It was with great sadness that I heard that Larry Simon is retiring from the Nathaniel Witherell board this week. His dedication to the town and service to our community is beyond parallel in my 27 years in the community,” Meskers said. “I am greatly concerned given the noted interest of many members of town government to rid the town of its nursing home and the marginal expense it represents within our budget.”
Meskers added: “I will be watching closely to see then who the new members of the board are in to make sure that they step forward with the appropriate level of interest for our beloved community. You have no doubt noticed the unwillingness to invest in our schools, the unwillingness to provide safe and accessible crosswalks and now I fear that this jewel of a nursing home will be abandoned because we don’t make money caring for end of life residents. Of our seniors. I thank Larry for his public service, and I hope that the town will nominate people who are as dedicated to our seniors as he was rather then to their own wallets.”
Family Council Reaction
On Wednesday morning, the co-chairs of the Family Council, Amy Badini and Elisabeth Quigley, and vice chair Sheilah Smith wrote to the directors to say they were saddened by the news of Larry Simon’s resignation.
“This is a loss to the institution as well as all the families and residents who have comprised the Witherell community for the past nearly two dozen years that Larry has dedicated himself to improving TNW for the benefit of the entire town of Greenwich,” they wrote.
“While the Family Council looks forward to working with whomever is appointed as the new Witherell Chair, we would especially look forward to working with Brad Markowitz as the new Chairman and Richard Kaplan as Vice Chair. Under their guidance, and with their industry experience, we are confident Witherell will be able to navigate the current challenges and stay focused on the future.”