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Nursing home closure stuns community

LORDSBURG – Sunshine Haven, the sole nursing home serving the rural community of Lordsburg in Hidalgo County, has closed and sits vacant except for the presence of private security at the site.

Preferred Care Partners Management Group, the company running the facility on behalf of owner Preferred Care Inc., announced the closure early in June, stating that residents would be relocated and the facility closed permanently by Aug. 3.

The company beat that deadline by nearly a month. Sunshine Haven’s last resident left the facility on July 5, according to staff who spoke with the Sun-News on the condition of anonymity. PCPMG marketing associate Joshua Martin confirmed that all operations ceased by the end of the following week.

The company notified the state Department of Health of its plans in advance, but the community found out just weeks before the facility closed.

“I personally worked with Department of Health staff from January to June to try to find an alternative to avoid Sunshine Haven’s owners’ decision to close down the facility altogether,” Department of Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel wrote to the Sun-News. “We reached out to other skilled nursing care companies to find alternative management for the Lordsburg facility, but were not successful.”

In a news release, Hidalgo County Manager Trisha Green called the closure “devastating to this community,” with a loss of approximately 80 local jobs and 37 residents moved to other New Mexico communities or out of state.

A community taken by surprise

On June 10, days after Sunshine Haven’s announcement, Lt. Gov. Howie Morales and Lordsburg Mayor Robert Barrera paid a visit to the nursing home seeking answers.

“It was so sudden, so abrupt, and such a surprise to the community,” Morales recalled. “Their urgency was to get people out of there and that concerned me.”

The meeting broke up after a local reporter was ejected from the room in an incident captured on a cellphone camera.

Thereafter, communication between the Texas-based owner, management staff on site and the community effectively ceased as residents were evacuated and employees told the Sun-News they had been pressed to sign agreements not to speak with news organizations.

“All of us recognize both the economic impact on the community and the emotional impact on local families,” Kunkel wrote, “and I have personally expressed both our regrets for the loss as well as our commitment to continue to work with city and county leaders to find new alternatives.”

Kunkel was in Lordsburg last week to meet with community, state and federal officials and ponder the next steps.

State, local officials huddle

At a private meeting on July 18 in Lordsburg, Kunkel met with city and county officials, staff representatives for U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, and a representative from Morales’ office.

State Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, and state Rep. Candie Sweetser, D-Deming, joined the meeting. Also in the room were members of Hidalgo Medical Services’ board of directors and its CEO, Dan Otero.

In an interview with the Sun-News, Morales said Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration wanted to help Lordsburg and, if possible, find solutions that can be replicated elsewhere. He said reduced eldercare in rural areas is symptomatic of national trends.

Morales said federal policy, and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements in particular, needs to be part of the solution, the goal being patient-centered care. He spoke highly of the Green House Project, an initiative developing smaller facilities to deliver elder care in settings more like personal homes as compared to larger institutional facilities.

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