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Citizens protest Geriatric Authority closure at Patrick's office

Date: 2/24/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

HOLYOKE -- Last week over 15 people stood outside of Gov. Deval Patrick's Dwight Street office in Springfield, demanding that the Holyoke Geriatric Authority (HGA) remain open.

Protesters later met with Elizabeth Cardona, director of the governor's Western Massachusetts Office, who said that the governor is doing all he can to ensure that the HGA remains open.

Earlier this month, the HGA submitted a formal closure request to the state, citing that it has not received $1 million in state funding promised to the facility last year. If closed, the facility would leave 65 residents homeless and 130 workers unemployed.

"This is not right," Amanda Smith, Certified Nursing Assistant at the HGA told Reminder Publications at the protest. "Every senior citizen and everyone [able] should be out there fighting for their senior citizens [who could be evicted from the HGA].

"I've worked at the Geriatric Authority for 18 years and I intend to be there another 18 years," she continued. "If I'm not there I don't know what I would do. I love my residents and my job."

John Bennett, president of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, said he was grateful to Cardona for meeting with protesters and is hopeful that the governor will work toward a resolution.

"For as long as I can remember, Holyoke has provided a place where the elderly could get affordable care when their families could no longer care for them," Bennett said. "In these times when seniors are faced with rising costs for food, shelter and health care, it would be a mistake to shut down this important facility, especially if [the $1 million in] state funding which could keep the facility open has, in fact, been earmarked for the [Holyoke Geriatric] Authority."

Cardona explained that the state funding was earmarked for capital improvement, not for the facility's day-to-day operations.

She added that the governor is exploring other possibilities for the HGA including a potential buyer.

"The governor is concerned about the jobs [lost] and patients," Cardona said. "Gov. Patrick knows how important this facility is to the community."

Bennett said at a time when the national focus is to stimulate the economy and the creation of jobs, the state should be doing everything possible to keep the facility open.

"Massachusetts should be providing the funds to keep this place open, and then use stimulus funds to ensure that these workers keep their jobs and that they receive proper pay for the work that they do," he said.

Cardona assured protesters that the governor is working toward the best possible solution.

"Hopefully [a closure of] this [facility] will not happen," she said. "I'm faithful this [process] will move forward [to a solution]."