COLONY — Bittersweet wasn’t close to covering the emotions that flooded the Colony City Hall community room Saturday.
Dozens of former Iola Nursing Center employees gathered for a potluck Christmas party, the first time many had seen each other since the nursing home and residential care facility suddenly closed its doors Nov. 13.
Also invited to the “un-company” holiday party, was this reporter.
“We just thought it’d be nice for the community to hear our side of the story,” said Pat Clay, who worked at INC for five years as a certified nurses aide and certified medical assistant. “We loved our residents. We loved our jobs.”
Among the hugs and tears was some laughter, if only because many of the 50-plus who gathered had become longtime friends through their jobs.
The affection shared among the attendees also stood in sharp contrast to the bitter feelings many still carry toward the facility’s current and former owners, who gave employees and residents just three days’ notice that it was closing.
Iola Nursing Center was under the management of Walnut Creek Management, also known as Tutera Group, until it was bought out by Americare in early November.
As part of the deal, the facility was acquired by a Topeka bank, and many of the patients’ contracts purchased by Americare.
“Americare was supposed to have first bids on the residents that they hand-selected,” said one former employee, who asked to not be identified. (Specifics of the employee’s allegations were confirmed through interviews with other former employees.)
“Yes, I said the word ‘bids,’” the employee continued. “In reality, that is what the undignified end came to. They rounded them up like a herd of cattle and auctioned them off.”
The most damning allegation came with the handling of one particular resident who initially refused to move from the center.
“Tutera even went so far as to checking to have him committed to Osawatomie State Hospital as being incompetent,” the employee said.
In the end, the resident was relocated to another nursing home, with Tutera agreeing to pay the resident’s first month’s rent.
“In the meantime this created hard feelings” among the resident’s family members, said the employee. “Tutera just listed the family as ‘dysfunctional.’”
“There was no compassion at all,” agreed Heather Crownover, a former employee who now works for Americare at Moran Manor. “It was heartless. One resident came in and asked me, ‘Why are they kicking me out?’ It breaks your heart.”
“There are residents in Moran still asking to go back home to Iola,” added Alicia Ellis, another former INC employee now working at Moran Manor.
Clay’s mother suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and was a resident at Iola Nursing Center. She was among 14 INC residents who were moved to Moran Manor.
“I’m sorry, but you just can’t mess with Alzheimer’s patients like that,” she said.
Crownover noted when she and Ellis were hired at Moran, just days after INC closed, they were relegated to the night shift.
Her new work schedule “is affecting my family, my two young children,” she said.
“We didn’t ask for any of this,” Ellis said.
Many employees also questioned why the facility was shuttered so suddenly; because notices purportedly sent to every employee and resident — some residents apparently never received copies — said the official shutdown date should have been Jan. 8.
“I still don’t get why they said everybody had to be out in three days,” the anonymous employee said.
Of the 33 displaced residents, 14 went to Moran Manor, two went to Vintage Park in Eureka, two went to Eureka Nursing Center, four went to Windsor Place in Iola, three went to Greystone in Iola, three went to Caney Nursing Home, two went to Guest Home Estates in Chanute, one went to Pleasant Valley in Sedan, one went to Vintage Park in Fredonia, one went to Brookdale in Emporia, and one died before he could be moved from the facility.
Calls to Tutera Management Group seeking comment were not returned before press time.
SATURDAY’S get-together provided the first chance for many of the employees to formally say good-bye, Clay noted.
Special plaques, made by a former groundskeeper at INC, were given to six employees who had been with the nursing home for more than 27 years — Joyce Jones, a CNA for 27 years; Lois Ruby, who worked in the laundry room for just under 28 years; Margaret Baker, a CNA and CMA for 30 years; Shirley Hines, a CNA for 38 years; and Randy Latta, the facility’s bookkeeper for 40 years.
“I’m so sorry it had to go down like this,” an emotional Latta told the group as he received his plaque. “It was the worst part of it.”
Latta credited his longevity with the facility to the efforts of his coworkers. “This isn’t possible without all you guys,” he said. “This is what it’s all about. It’s a family thing.”
“We’re still a close family,” Clay chimed in.
“And we love each other,” Latta agreed.