Skip to content

Bennington nursing home to be sold to company promising specialized care

About 100 Vermonters are stuck in hospitals, prisons or out-of-state facilities because existing nursing homes in Vermont say they can’t handle their complex needs — often mental health-related — or won’t take people with criminal backgrounds.

By Lola Duffort November 10, 2023, 12:50 pm

a large metal sign on the side of a building.
The Agency of Human Services is housed at the Waterbury State Office Complex. Seen on Friday, June 23, 2023. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

State officials are celebrating the pending sale of a Bennington nursing home to a Connecticut-based for-profit chain, which they say will open desperately needed specialized care beds.

About 100 Vermonters are stuck in hospitals, prisons or out-of-state facilities because existing nursing homes in Vermont say they can’t handle their complex needs — often mental health-related — or won’t take people with criminal backgrounds. The Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging, & Independent Living in 2022 launched a request for proposals for a two-year contract offering a specialized Medicaid reimbursement rate to providers willing to fill the gap.

iCare Health Network, which operates 11 facilities in Connecticut and one in Massachusetts, has won that bid, state officials announced Wednesday. Pending state approval, the company plans to purchase Bennington Health & Rehabilitation, a 91-bed licensed skilled nursing home currently owned by Genesis HealthCare. iCare would rebrand the facility as MissionCare at Bennington if it assumes control later this year. Among the rebranded home’s services: medications for patients with opioid use disorder who are in treatment.

“For over a decade iCare has been a leading provider of long-term care for individuals who are challenging and complex to place including those with a behavioral health diagnosis, highly stigmatized and justice involved,” David Skoczulek, iCare’s Vice President of Business Development and Communications, said in a statement released by the state. “We are committed to a safe, secure, stigma-free environment.”

DAIL deputy commissioner Megan Tierney-Ward noted that, instead of starting from scratch, iCare would add new services to a facility that’s already licensed and operating, which she said is a big plus. Currently only about half the beds are full, she said, and existing clients will be able to stay.

“It was complex for us to get through that process, but we’re very excited about it because we really like being able to use the current resources that Vermont has available already,” she said.

Genesis, the facility’s seller, has been unsuccessfully trying to offload five of its nine nursing homes in Vermont since 2020. A $46.6 million deal to sell facilities in Burlington, Bennington, Berlin, St. Johnsbury and Springfield to a private equity group fell through in late 2021 amid scrutiny from the press and state regulators. The nursing home giant, which operates more than 500 facilities nationwide, hasn’t yet sold off any of its other Vermont properties.

Genesis, like many for-profit chains in the nursing sector, has come under scrutiny across the country over the quality of its care. It settled a suit with the Vermont Attorney General’s office in 2020 for $740,000 following accusations of neglect at its St. Johnsbury, Berlin and Burlington locations. Its Bennington facility continues to be listed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as a candidate for its “special focus facility program” — a list of the nation’s worst-performing nursing homes, although the most recent state inspection found the facility had corrected earlier violations and was now in “substantial compliance” with federal rules.

Kaili Kuiper, Vermont’s long-term care ombudsman, said her office at Vermont Legal Aid would carefully monitor the facility’s new owners to make sure patients’ rights were upheld. Although she deeply appreciates the state’s efforts to increase capacity for hard-to-place individuals who need long-term care, she also expressed some reservations about doing so in such a large, institutional setting.

She said she would have preferred an operator — or operators — willing to offer smaller, more homelike settings, although she acknowledged this would be more complicated. Other nursing care providers in Vermont, she said, should also be encouraged to train their staff so that they might also be able to take on more complex patients.

“We don’t want to see this become a situation where people with severe mental illness are segregated to just this facility,” she said. 

Lindsey Owen, the executive director of Disability Rights Vermont, echoed Kuiper. While it is an improvement on the status quo, “creating more institutions in Vermont is not something we should be proud of nor holding out as our first priority.”

“But the need for alternative placements for individuals with complex needs absolutely exists,” she said. “So until Vermont can figure out a better way to better fund and provide a more robust infrastructure of community supports and services, it seems like this facility may serve as a stopgap to preventing some additional unnecessary harm.”

Skip to content