In February, Trinity Health Services announced that Huron Woods Assisted Living would close at the end of April. The health-care system portrayed it as a simple consolidation: two years ago, Trinity bought Glacier Hills Senior Living, which also offers memory care.
“Instead of using our energies to compete with ourselves in a given market, we will be focused on creating more vibrant, full-service communities that offer area residents a wider range of residential and service options, along with new opportunities for creative, educational and personal pursuits,” Trinity Health Senior Communities CEO Steve Kastner said in a press release.
But when people who had loved ones at Huron Woods learned that they would either have to move them to Glacier Hills or find another place, they rose up in protest. A petition asking Trinity to reconsider gathered more than 100 signatures. Diane Saulter, whose husband has been living at Huron Woods for three years, says she was “shocked,” “distressed,” and “angry.” “Trinity Health can’t have any idea how difficult it will be for persons with dementia to move,” she says.
Observer contributor Ken Garber’s father spent his last years at Huron Woods. “To most people, Huron Woods, if they’re aware of it at all, is just another assisted living facility that does dementia care,” he says. “To those of us who’ve had family members there, however, its loss would be calamitous.”
“To change the surroundings for an elderly person is very traumatic,” says Jane Grimes, whose mother also spent her last years at Huron Woods. For people with impaired memories, she says, any abrupt major change “will cause an immediate decline in their health and behavior.”
Grimes was on staff when Huron Woods opened in 1991. “Instead of merely providing safety and care, Huron Woods created ways to help residents remain as independent as possible for as long as possible–and it became a model for others,” she says.
“Huron Woods offered its residents a new psychosocial model of dementia care,” Garber adds: “to explicitly recognize, nurture, and protect … the personhood of its residents. This stood in stark opposition to the medicalized model of dementia prevalent at the time, and still very pervasive, [that] views dementia as a neuropsychological pathology in which efforts are directed to meeting people’s daily needs and minimizing their suffering.”
Huron Woods was designed as five separate “homes,” each accommodating fifteen seniors, with a very low (five-to-one) resident/staff ratio and regular assistance from occupational, art, and music therapies.
Trinity has offered to move all Huron Woods residents to Glacier Hills’ Pavilion Building, which will be renamed Huron Woods at Glacier Hills. Spokesperson Eve Pidgeon says they hope to hire some of the 115 people who will lose their jobs when Huron Woods closes. (Those who don’t land there or elsewhere in the Trinity system will receive severance.)
Pidgeon says they’ll convert semi-private rooms to private rooms, freshen the interior, and install “decorations/artifacts from Huron Woods in order to create a familiar environment.” In an email to Garber, Kastner wrote that Trinity is “committed to offering programming at Glacier Hills that is consistent with the high standards you and your loved ones expect.”
Glen Harry is still waiting to see what that means. His wife was diagnosed with early onset dementia at the age of fifty-five, and he retired in 2012 to care for her at home. When he could no longer manage, he researched local facilities. “It became apparent that Huron Woods was the next best place to home,” he says. “It is a place that really, really cares about people.”
As of mid-March, Harry says, “I’ve heard nothing about Trinity’s plans to move residents or help them transition to an entirely new environment. Frankly, I’m very concerned about the level of care that will be provided.”
Pidgeon acknowledges that the Glacier Hills resident-to-staff ratio is higher, six-to-one, but says that during the transition it will be raised “as we provide added support.” She says that Huron Woods at Glacier Hills will include several “households,” including a memory care, long-term care, and a smaller assisted-living household. “Residents of all households will have access to Glacier Hills’ life enrichment center and the abundance of programs that support residents in any stage.”
Currently, the memory care program at Glacier Hills has sixty residents; if all Huron Woods residents move, the number will rise by 45 percent. Pidgeon promises residents who relocate “will find themselves in dedicated households with familiar staff members and neighbors (other residents from Huron Woods).” At press time, however, few Huron Woods staff members had received employment offers, and some had already taken jobs elsewhere.
“We’ve seen no sign that Trinity Health will reconsider, so we’re pretty much convinced the move will take place,” Garber says. “Most of our efforts are now directed at protecting residents from the effects of a potentially traumatic move, making sure as many of the Huron Woods staff as possible will find jobs within the system, and making sure the new facility reflects the philosophy and physical amenities that best meet the residents’ needs.
“I hope with all my heart that they can make this work, even as I mourn the loss of Huron Woods as I’ve known it … Huron Woods will always be family to me.”
This article has been edited since it was published in the April 2019 Ann Arbor Observer. The spelling of Diane Saulter’s name has been corrected.