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End of an era as Sisters of St. Joseph sell Mount Marie

Date: 8/8/2014

HOLYOKE – After 117 years, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield are leaving the Mont Marie property in Holyoke.

The location has been the center of the congregation, but severe financial situations have forced the group to make tough decisions.
The new owner of the property will be Tryko Partners LLC., a third generation nursing home operator that owns eight facilities in Massachusetts including Webster Park Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Rockland and Briarwood Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Needham and operates them through their healthcare subsidiary, Marquis health Services.
About 70 Sisters will continue to live on Mont Marie after the sale, while about 35 other Sisters will move to housing facilities provided by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston and the Daughters of the Heart of Mary in Holyoke. The congregational offices will be moving to the Lady of Hope rectory in Springfield in the fall. Also, Tryko is leasing the chapel to the congregation for $1 per year for their full use.
“For the past two and a half years we’ve look[ed] seriously to solve our dire financial situation [and] just considering the sale of the property was something we knew we had to put on the agenda.” Sister Maxyne Schneider, president of the congregation, said. “Community life was centered here. It’s our largest, most precious non-cash asset. It’s a step saying we have done everything in our power to solve our financial problem before asking for help.”
She continued, “[The sale] improves it drastically. Mont Marie was of central importance to solving our financial problem. We get money from the deal, but more importantly the reduction of the annual expense of maintaining the property, [which had] become prohibitively large.”
Tryko’s Director of Acquisitions, Uri Kahanow, said that there was an immediate connection between the two parties that sets the groundwork for a successful partnership.
“We went out to meet Sister Maxyne and many of the sisters. There was immediate recognition and trust. We realized it’s a facility lots of history and faith-based services that were a primary reason people went there,” Kahanow said.
“With our skills and being a top operator in Massachusetts, we feel we can upgrade Mont Marie to offer more services while the sisters are willing to stay on and have a presence. We felt it’s a great partnership, a new area of Massachusetts for us, [and] a great opportunity in that market,” he continued.
While the sale will help the Sisters’ situation significantly, there is still a long way to go.
“Next step is that we will be engaging in a formal fundraising campaign. We can’t yet solve our problem without outside help. Selling the property is a huge step for us,” Schneider said. “We are still committed to service our neighbors and especially those with greatest need. Our mission has not changed.”
The selling process has taken time and there were multiple parties making proposals, but Schneider affirms Kahanow’s remarks about the first interaction between the two groups.
“We were working with consultants from February or March 2012. Our proposal went out last September to other developers of senior living in this region and some commercial groups. We received responses and event proposals. Right from the beginning we were impressed by the proposal and early meeting [with Tryko],” Schneider said.
Norman Rokeach, director of nursing home operations for Marquis, commented on the opportunity Mont Marie offered.
“What attracted us [to Mont Marie] is we’ve had experience in a similar situation and had great success at not only keeping the identity and spirituality, but enhancing it as well,” Rokeach said.
Tryko and Marquis put an emphasis on their patients’ well being and finding out what the people need.
“We’re in our facilities on a weekly basis enhancing care and focusing on the day to day needs of patients. The plan over the next six weeks is for our team to spend time with [not just] the leaders of Mont Marie, but also with hospitals and physicians to understand where needs are and aren’t being met,” Rokeach explained. “Excellent care and excellent customer service is what makes us a successful company.”
The sale agreement has been signed, but there are still a couple steps before the deal is finalized. Tryko’s Chief Investment Officer Chad Buchanan says that once everything is in order there will be some changes to the facility, but that it will be difficult to surpass the standards of patient care that the congregation has in place.
“Mostly cosmetic renovations rather than redevelopment. Once we’re approved permit wise the gradual completion will be over a six to nine month period.  You have to be sensitive with skilled nursing because it’s an operating health facility,” Buchanan said.
He continued, “We’re hard pressed to improve on a deficiency free survey [Mont Marie] just received about six weeks ago [from the State Department of Health]. They’re not easy to come by.”