Weeks after a Mission Hill nursing home told residents and employees it would be closing later this year, several state lawmakers and Boston city councilors are calling for a court-appointed receiver to take over the facility. But the state Department of Public Health says that's not an option.

One of the Edgar P. Benjamin Healthcare Center residents facing an uncertain future is Louis Johnson, who stood in front of the facility Friday with the assistance of a walker. Johnson said he didn't want to be kicked out of the facility where he's been for years.

"This is where we live," he said. "It closes, where we going to go?"

CEO Tony Francis informed the nursing home's 76 residents in February that they planned to close the doors in July as a result of "insurmountable financial challenges."

In a written statement, Francis said the center is "focused on assuring appropriate and orderly resident transfers."

"The economic climate for long-term care is dismal and continued operation of the facility is simply not sustainable, so the skilled nursing facility is scheduled to close July 1, after all resident transfers are complete," Francis wrote. "We continue to work closely with state and local elected and appointed officials. We appreciate the interest and support of these officials but the fiscal reality remains the same."

But at a press conference Friday in front of the nursing home, State Sen. Liz Miranda blamed Francis for the nursing home's financial problems.

"We have reason to believe that the administrator has used his position solely for his own personal gain, and that has put the facility and its residents in harm's way," said Miranda, who represents residents in the state Senate.

"People came to my community to get health care," added City Councilor Ben Weber, whose district includes Mission Hill. "Their families relied on this facility to provide their relatives with the care that they need, and they deserve better. They deserve transparency. Instead, what they got was a CEO who ran the place into the ground while apparently enriching himself."

Public financial disclosures show Francis was compensated $628,592 in 2021, as staff struggled to keep residents and patients safe through the COVID-19 pandemic.

An older man with a gray bears and a beanie looks distressed.
"This is where we live," said Louis Johnson, who has lived at the Edgar P. Benjamin Healthcare Center in Mission Hill for years. "It closes, where we going to go?"
Craig LeMoult GBH News

Miranda called for the state Department of Public Health and Attorney General Andrea Campbell to support the appointment of a receiver "to assess the feasibility of keeping this facility open, to find a new long-term care provider to support continued operations, and to closely monitor the closure process to ensure that these residents — our neighbors — are safe and supported throughout this transition."

But neither the Department of Public Health nor the attorney general’s office appear poised to act.

A spokesperson for the attorney general's office pointed to the state Department of Public Health, which has a role it must play in every nursing home's closure.

"The closure of a nursing home in a community is not something anyone wants to see," the spokesperson said in a written statement. "A facility that decides to close must work with the Department of Public Health to safely transfer patients to other facilities where they can receive appropriate care. While the Attorney General's Office does not have a designated role in this closure process, we will continue to use our tools where we can, including to ensure workers get paid."

The AG's office issued a $15,000 citation to the facility earlier this month for failure to make timely payment of wages, and per a spokesperson, secured roughly $190,000 in restitution for workers.

The AG's office does have the ability to ask a court to place a facility under receivership under certain conditions, but the spokesperson for the AG's office declined to publicly discuss when and how that legal tool is used.

And, according to the Department of Public Health, the Edgar P. Benjamin Healthcare Center has complied with closure requirements and doesn't meet the legal threshold for receivership: if there's imminent danger of death or serious physical harm to patients, or if a facility is operating without a license or has had one revoked.

The department says an ombudsman from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services is meeting with residents on-site to assist with transitions, and that DPH is closely monitoring the closure process.

Leslie Henderson has worked at the Edgar P. Benjamin Healthcare Center for 24 years.

"We have come in despite our checks bouncing, despite not being paid for five weeks," Henderson said at Friday's press conference. "We showed up because we care about the residents that we take care of."

Henderson said, in addition to speaking for employees, she was there at the press conference to speak for the residents, who are largely people of color.

"We may be able to find jobs any place that we want to, but these people are being displaced from their homes," she said. "We ask, if this was going on in any other community — if this was Lexington, if this was Weston, if this was Newton, if this man was doing what he was doing to other people that may not have looked like me, or may not have looked like a lot of the residents that we represent — would this be OK?

"We have reached out to the Department of Public Health. We have reached out to the Attorney General's office and we have had silence," she continued. "Crickets. Nothing."

Members of Boston's City Council put the nursing home's crisis in a larger context, as Walgreens pharmacies have left Roxbury and Carney Hospital in Dorchester faces an uncertain future amid parent company Steward Health Care's financial crisis.

"We are in a crisis right now in health care, where too many people are putting profit before people," said City Council President Ruthzee Louijeune. "And these residents need long-term care. They need us to stand with them."

"When we're thinking about all the things that are happening with Walgreens, with our hospitals, it just really feels like gentrification is happening," said City Councilor Julia Mejia. "Not just housing gentrification, but our quality of life and health care is being gentrified. And I think this is an opportunity for us to say no."