About 60 residents of a long-term nursing home in Wahiawa are searching for new places to live as the facility prepares to close in three months.

The impending loss of the Wahiawa Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which is connected to the adjacent Wahiawa General Hospital, comes as demand for care facilities for older adults is rising due to the state’s aging population.

The hospital’s chief executive, Brian Cunningham, blamed the decision to close the nursing home on a financial shortfall as well as difficulties in maintaining the infrastructure and retaining staff.

He also said the hospital would increase its number of beds to 66 and would retain the 25 employees working at the nursing and rehabilitation center.

Wahiawa General Hospital Long Term Care building.
The Wahiawa Nursing and Rehabilitation Center will shut its doors in July. More than 60 residents will need to transition to other care services. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The nursing home has served older adults in central Oahu for more than 50 years. Its last day will be July 22.

“This was a difficult – but necessary – decision,” Cunningham said in a news release issued Wednesday. “We are committed to making this difficult transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved.”

The staff will work with the residents and their families to transition them to other care services in the state, Cunningham said in an interview.

Hawaii’s long-term care ombudsman John McDermott said the plans to close the Wahiawa facility left older adults in the rural area with few nearby options.

“So that means for the North Shore, there’s nothing in terms of nursing homes,” he said in a Civil Beat Editorial Board meeting on Wednesday. 

Last year, an assisted living facility in the nearby North Shore community of Hauula shut down after the state Department of Health revoked its license following investigations into complaints of caregiver neglect and other deficiencies.

As Hawaii’s population continues to age, so does the demand for nursing homes, care homes, foster homes and assisted living facilities, especially on the neighbor islands. People 65 and older make up 18% of the state’s population of 1 million.

Statewide, there are more than 1,700 long-term care facilities and more than 12,800 beds, according to the state Executive Office on Aging.

Figures from the state Executive Office on Aging shows that there are over 1,700 long-term care facilities and more than 12,800 beds in the state.
Numbers from the state Executive Office on Aging shows that there are over 1,700 long-term care facilities and more than 12,800 beds in the state. Courtesy: Executive Office on Aging

McDermott said people may have to travel as far as Pearl City or Kaneohe on the Windward side of Oahu to find space.

The Wahiawa Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is only 20 minutes from the North Shore and 10 minutes away from Mililani. The facility has 93 beds and rehabilitation services including physical, occupational and speech therapy.

McDermott said administrators of the Wahiawa nursing facility told him it would take $30 million to renovate the two-story building, and they didn’t have that.

Cunningham also said the Covid-19 pandemic has made it more difficult to keep staff.

“The reality is that it’s extremely difficult to manage in this environment in health care, in skilled nursing and long-term care,” he said.

In addition to demand for space, McDermott said there’s need for more oversight of the statewide network of long-term care facilities, especially on the neighbor islands, since he’s the only ombudsman.

State lawmakers were considering two measures that would’ve created five new full-time ombudsman positions for each county. Although the measures failed, McDermott said funding for the positions were inserted in the budget measure instead.

“I’ve been doing this for 24 years, so I would like to retire in 25 years, but I definitely want to stay around to hire and train those people,” he said.

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