Maria Stella Gulla, Director of ABCD North End / West End NSC

The word respect in Latin meant to “look at” and it is with much sadness that I write this letter in response to the news of the closure of the 140-bed North End Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center that Partners Healthcare owns and is planning to close in about a year’s time.  

Seniors and other members of the community feel ignored, invisible, and angry.  The center’s mission was to provide lifecycle care for residents with an interdisciplinary team approach to enhance a person’s quality of life and maintain one’s well-being.  The purpose of the location in the North End neighborhood was so longtime residents could stay in the North End while their families could frequently visit.  Here, families are an integral part of their care program. Families are encouraged to participate actively in all aspects of care, and to be an important component of the interdisciplinary care model.

History of Spaulding North End (taken from spauldingrehab.org)

In 1983 in response to the needs and requests of the community, the North End Community Health Center opened the North End Nursing Home (now called the Spaulding Nursing and Therapy Center North End) to ensure a continuum of care, allowing for the monitoring, coordination and access to culturally competent care by the same providers through a patient’s lifecycles and care needs. In partnership with the Health Center, nursing home patients continued to be provided with primary care, dental, podiatry, mental health, laboratory and vision services.

2000 – Partners HealthCareMassachusetts General Hospital and North End Community Health Committee entered into a partnership, with the mission of providing healthcare services in the North End.  This affiliation included all components of the North End Community Health and the North End Nursing Home

2000 – North End’s certified home care agency was merged with Spaulding’s certified home care agency, and governance of both agencies was transferred to Partners Home Care.

2001 – Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital took over the operations of the North End Nursing Home and added rehabilitation services to their overall mission for care.

2003 – North End Community Health Center physicians and nurse practitioner staff entered into contract arrangement with SRH to provide services to residential patients only. Transitional care unit opened at North End Nursing Home on second floor.

I grew up in the North End and being of an Italian family was taught respect for elderly and anyone in need, as it was the expected cultural norm in those days.  Our grandparents were our mentors and confidants. They looked after us while our parents were working hard to pursue that American dream, which the first generation of immigrants envisioned when they came to this great country. Looking at today’s recent events it seems to me that those moral obligations of respect and human kindness are passé and insignificant. I ask myself if we realize that we are sealing the fate and the reality for our very own futures, as residents of this neighborhood.  What we create now, or what we consent to be done now, both by action and non-action, is what we, as elderly, will face in the near future.

I sat down with the seniors at our weekly congregate lunch the other day to hear their views on the situation.  I could relate to everything that they were saying, and more.   A common view among the crowd was that the North End does not need more restaurants and luxury apartments.  Of course, those are important because business owners pay taxes and property owners do as well, but that is changing the fabric of the neighborhood and the very reason that it is such an attractive neighborhood in which to live.   Back when I was growing up in the North End, you could meet all of your daily needs without leaving the neighborhood.  There were bakeries, meat shops, produce markets (the Haymarket is still in existence today), supermarkets, pharmacies, dress shops, and hardware stores, the most famous of which, True Value, closed earlier this year after 60 years.   

During our home-cooked lunch of salad, pasta, and chicken, Paula and Vincenza asserted that the elected officials should help, as the neighborhood seniors vote for them every year.  Frank, a former waiter, has lived on Charter Street in the North End for 78 years.  He served our country by fighting in the Korean War.  He made it adamantly clear that he does not wish to leave the North End, ever.

Connie, another life-long resident, has led a very interesting and productive life filled with family and friends.  She held a variety of jobs where she stood on her feet all day-sewing machine operator, candy factory packer, office worker, waitress, and many others.  Mary R. has spent 75-80 years in the neighborhood.  “I’ll never leave here!”  she vowed.  She worked in a box factory and at the former Bank of Boston.

I spent the most time with Mary, who turns 93 in July, and we leisurely drank our coffee and munched some cookies.  Mary asked for a cookie to take home to enjoy with her evening tea!  She told me how she outlived her adult daughter and that upon her daughter’s passing, for the first time ever, got very ill and had to go to the North End Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center to recover.  Her husband had passed from Alzheimer’s and she had no one else nearby to care for her.  “I was here, though,” she stated.  “I was home.”

She recounted how she grew up in a houseful of siblings and that her mother worked for Wilson’s Farm in Lexington.  If her mother was busy at home or picked up other work, she occasionally sent Mary, then 14 years old, in her place.  “Don’t get into trouble,” she warned Mary.  “Work hard and keep my job for me.”  Mary would wait outside Bova’s Bakery at 5:00AM for a ride to Lexington; work all day in the fields; and catch a ride home.  The boss told Mary the next day that her daughter “did good.”  “For my mother, ” Mary said with pride, “there were no better words.”  She also helped quite a bit at home with the cooking, cleaning, and care of her siblings.  “We had nothing but were so happy,” Mary said over and over again.  “When the Depression hit, my father got a Works Progress Administration (WPA) job.  We were thankful for the money and we didn’t want a hand-out.  He would stop on the way home at the candy factory, where a friend worked, and bring us leftover or damaged candy.  It was the best and the only time we ever had sweets as there was no money.”

I share these stories because they show that the people who need the Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center are hardworking, lifelong residents that built this neighborhood through their labor and strong characters.  “We took care of one another, ” the seniors said time and again throughout lunch.  “Our  mothers made trays of food for neighbors who lived alone; who were sick; whose wives had passed away; who had large families.  We watched one another’s children.  Our doors were unlocked so family and friends could drop in any time.”  We all will get old-it happens to us regardless of how much money we have or where we live.

Our seniors are people that have worked their whole life and call home these neighborhoods which they have contributed to build and make prosper.  At a time of their life when they expect to modestly enjoy the fruits of their labor, they are faced with displacement when their health fails them and they need caring and a safe, nurturing haven the most, easily accessible for their loved ones to visit them.  “I am in my 60s,” Vincenza worried.  “A few years ago it was a struggle for me to visit my ailing mother in Brighton, and I was much younger and my knees didn’t hurt me like they do now.  My aunt is in her late 90s.  If she leaves the North End Nursing Home, she will die.  Not only that, I also know I can’t make the regular trip to Brighton to see her.  My own health is suffering now as it is.”   Other seniors mentioned relatives who are 93, 95, 96, and even 99 years old who will share the same fate.

I end this letter with a call to action to not let this happen!  I will be available if any time you would like to speak with me on this or other issues of interest for the well being of our community.  Please call 617-523-8125 or email me at mariastella.gulla@bostonabcd.org. It will not be easy and it will not be quick, but the things in life for which it is worth fighting never are!  Together our voices and assertion can result in a decision to keep our seniors here with us.

Maria Stella Gulla, Director
ABCD North End / West End Neighborhood Service Center

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