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BY LESLEY SUSSMAN | A chilly wind gusted down E. Fifth St. on Sunday morning. But it wasn’t the cold weather that many of the visitors to the Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation were feeling that day. Instead, it was a deep disappointment coupled with disbelief that the skilled nursing care facility would soon be closed and their aged relatives relocated elsewhere.
Despite extensive efforts by various community groups and a host of political leaders to save the nursing home beds and healthcare jobs at the center, its operators announced last week that after 20 years of serving the community the facility would close its doors this summer. The decision will affect 240 elderly residents and 290 employees at the center.
The building was recently purchased by the Magnum Realty Group after the property’s previous, undisclosed owner decided last year to sell at a price that the rehab center’s current operator — the Cabrini Eldercare Consortium — could not meet.
Magnum’s president, Benjamin Shaoul, who purchased the 84,000-square-foot building, at 542 E. Fifth St., for $25.5 million in November, said “a substantial rehab” will begin immediately after the center’s closure — most likely this July. Plans call for a luxury condo residential building at that site.
Shaoul said that, in response to community groups and elected officials, he had tried to find a buyer that would preserve the nursing facility, but that those attempts ultimately failed.
In the wake of that disclosure, a spokesperson for the nursing facility said that it had already stopped admitting long-term residents, but will continue to admit patients for short-term rehabilitation until the place’s final closure.
“We are now committed to ensuring a smooth relocation for our residents and a dignified transition for our employees,” said Lorraine Horgan, a Cabrini spokesperson.
The 240-bed center is seeking to sell 117 beds to a private nursing home operator in Borough Park, so that some residents and employees will have the option of moving to Brooklyn. What will happen to the remainder of the patients and employees remains uncertain.
In a letter it distributed last week, Cabrini said that closing the facility will cost it $7 million. The nursing center has requested state Department of Health grants to cover those costs, which are connected to unemployment insurance, pension funding and severance pay. Cabrini said that without such grants, the center would be forced into bankruptcy.
Patricia Krasnausky, C.E.O. and president at Cabrini Eldercare, wrote that if Cabrini did not receive the grants but was able to sell the beds, it would still have to spend $4.5 million on its shutdown.
On Sunday, this reporter was not allowed into the E. Fifth St. facility, but residents’ relatives who were entering and exiting the building had plenty to say about the situation.
A woman who declined to identify herself said that her 95-year-old grandmother has been a resident at the East Village center for six months.
“It’s a deplorable situation,” she said. “One of the biggest concerns is that many of the people in here don’t have family to help them relocate. It’s very sad. Nobody knows where they’re going to end up. It makes me very angry. At least we can help our grandmother.”
Raymond Hernandez, a nearby resident who has lived on the block for more than 40 years, said he, too, was upset by news that the Cabrini home would soon close.
“We don’t need another luxury condo in the neighborhood,” he said. “We need a place to house the very old people who are sick. This was not a good idea. The building is very necessary for the community.”
One relative, who gave his name as Sergio, said that while he was disturbed by the situation, he was nonetheless prepared for it.
“My mother is in here,” he said. “She’s 60 years old and has been here for five months. I heard about a developer coming in through a blog I follow on the neighborhood, and my mom called me about a week ago to let me know. A nurse had slipped the information to her. So I started making plans to transfer my mother.
“But it’s all totally disappointing,” he continued. “I think it’s outrageous. I don’t think that this in any way is supportive of the neighborhood. What are people from the neighborhood with family members here going to do?” he asked.
Gabriel Gomez, a teacher at Marist College, said that his mother has been at Cabrini since 2007.
“She will be 90 years old on the 20th of this month,” he said. “This is terrible. Really terrible. I’m very angry about it. Fortunately, this is spring break for me, so I’ll have a little time to look for a place to transfer my mother.”
A young man who asked that his name not be used said he has been volunteering at Cabrini for the past seven years. He called the situation “tragic.”
“This is going to be a very serious disruption for hundreds of people in there,” he said. “It’s really unfortunate and I wish it could have been avoided.”
In an e-mail to this newspaper sent last Friday, Kenny and Elizabeth Montano said they have a relative who is a patient at Cabrini and were “very upset by the way the whole situation has been handled.”
“We, the family members, were never informed or updated in all this fiasco and got the information third hand through media outlets, such as yours, or our local elected officials,” their message said.
“Just today we went to Cabrini and were given information that a mail-out was being sent to family members after the fact, although the administrators did offer to meet with selected family members to discuss the possible outcome and the role the family members will undertake, such as relocation, etc.
“We the family members are demanding an explanation as to why? Why were we misinformed and kept out of the loop? If the administrators of Cabrini cannot give us a reasonable explanation, we will more than certain form a protest and rally A.S.A.P.! And we’ll invite the media and local politicians to support us.”
In a press release issued last Friday, spokesperson Horgan said that Cabrini “will continue to hold family information sessions and work closely with families to find alternative locations with vacancies matched to the need of each resident.”
Earlier, C.E.O. Krasnausky sent a letter to elected officials who had tried to prevent the facility’s closing.
“This week,” the letter said, “we are informing patients and their families and providing employees a three-month WARN notice required by the State Department of Labor.”