25 Investigates

‘I cannot bring my wife home’: 25 Investigates delves into fight to keep Boston nursing home open

BOSTON — The sudden announcement that a historic Boston nursing home could close in July has left residents and family members reeling — including Mattapan resident Adam Owens, who said he has no safe place to bring his 57-year-old wife if she loses the place she calls home.

“I cannot bring my wife home,” Owens said. “I have 30 stairs to go up and down and I cannot carry her. And it would be a dangerous situation for her to come to.”

Owens is one of dozens of family members grappling with the potential July 1 closure of the Edgar P. Benjamin Healthcare Center — a closure that observers say would create a crisis for the 76 people who live there.

Owens and other family members and employees say they want the state to consider alternatives to keep the nursing home open beyond July 1 — including a receivership. And they question the high pay of the nursing home’s CEO and the extent of federal and state oversight of the CEO’s financial management of the home.

“This could be a life-changing situation with those people in there because a lot of people call their place home,” Owens said.

Owens’ wife, Rhonda, has lived at the nursing home for four years since her stroke. He said he learned about the nursing home’s closure through a robocall sent to family members — a call that he called “terrible” and impersonal.

“My wife had a stroke seven and a half years ago,” Owens said. “She’s unable to walk, talk, read, or write anymore.”

“I have to go to work,” Owens said. “She needs 24-hour care.”

Owens said he has not started looking for new beds — because he has hope that the state will figure out a way to keep the nursing home open.

“I’m on a hope of — this place stays open,” he said.

25 Investigates spoke to other family residents who have begun the search for beds nearby — and they say they’re facing waits from six months to two years.

This week, employees told 25 Investigates that representatives of MassHealth had arrived at the nursing home to begin the process of transferring residents to other facilities — a step that employees and observers fear will make it even harder to keep the nursing home open.

“This signals a potential total collapse when you have folks, being laid off or fired, folks pulling out their loved ones,” said State Sen. Liz Miranda, whose district includes the nursing home that has long served Mission Hill and Roxbury.

“Our community is freaking out,” Miranda said. “Rightfully so. This is not okay. This is not right. And this has been very sudden… For folks that have their loved ones there, to hear that you have to move your loved one from a long-term care facility where there already is a crisis in the Commonwealth, particularly for black and brown seniors and low-income seniors.”

Miranda is calling for immediate state action through a receivership: “I think we need to intervene. And I don’t have any faith in the leader that’s currently there.”

The Attorney General’s office declined to comment, while the state Department of Health said it’s closely monitoring the situation.

Some workers have already lost their jobs — including a housekeeping aide who was fired after talking to 25 Investigates about how workers went weeks without pay and access to health insurance late last year. And we found that when workers did get paychecks in January — they bounced.

25 Investigates has also learned the nursing home recently fired a social worker who was concerned about the potential closure’s impact on vulnerable residents.

Edward Miller, professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said it’s critical for staffing levels to remain sufficient as workers are fired or seek jobs elsewhere.

“There needs to be sufficient staff in the facility for as long as there are residents in that facility,” he said.

Miller said that nursing home closures can have devastating short-term consequences on the well-being of residents.

“Research has shown that there’s increased depression, anxiety, agitation, increased risk of falls, potentially in the short run, a potential increase in mortality,” Miller said. “It’s traumatic, of course, it is traumatic for the residents and their families. But it’s traumatic for the community, right, for this resource that has been there for so long to suddenly go out of business. Right? That’s difficult to accept, I would think.”

Miller said if the closure is approved — the long-term well-being of residents would depend on whether they can be transferred to beds that can serve their needs.

Many lack insurance or have particularly hard-to-treat diagnoses like schizophrenia.

“Some of these folks have really special needs,” he said. “The challenge also is that there has to be nursing homes that are willing to take these folks. And, and there has to be available beds, right.”


The nursing home’s history dates back a century ago. It’s long served indigent elderly residents and Black Bostonians, who are still contending with a legacy of racism, discrimination as well as exclusion from local nursing homes.

In 1927, Edgar P. Benjamin — a noted Boston black philanthropist, banker, and attorney — founded the Resthaven nursing home in Roxbury.

He donated it to the community to serve the elderly — without regard to race, creed, or color.

“An attorney, he was able to create this trust and leave it to the community to take care of indigent people, not only blacks alone, but everyone who comes to the facility,” Delroy McDonald, a former bookkeeper at the nursing home, said. “To protect the black community, to give these opportunities for people who did not have those services elsewhere.”

By 1965, the original nursing home’s building was condemned and a year later, demolished.

A new nursing home built on the property on Fisher Avenue opened in 1970. In 1979, the Boston Globe reported that Suffolk County Superior Court appointed a receiver to take over the nursing home following allegations of abuse and neglect.

By the turn–of–the–century, the nursing home moved out of receivership and renamed itself to honor its original founder.

Employees have long celebrated milestones by unfurling banners outside the home — including when it became 100% deficiency-free by 2014-2015.

The Edgar P. Benjamin nursing home currently enjoys a 4-star rating by Medicare.

“It got back on track, and it’s really sad to see it now, 40 years later return to a place where it might need another receiver,” Sen. Miranda said.

“It is a place where dozens of people work, where dozens of people have found a safe haven, particularly black seniors,” she said.

In October 2014, the nursing home hired CEO Tony Francis.

In Part Two of our series, 25 Investigates will take a deep dive into the nursing home’s finances, Francis’ fiscal leadership, and concerns from community members who are calling for accountability and receivership.

The nonprofit nursing home — built with an original capacity for 240 beds — is certified by Medicaid to provide 205 beds for residents.

Currently, just 76 residents live there — putting the nursing home at 37% occupancy of its certified beds.

One factor impacting occupancy: the nursing home rents out part of its property to a Roxbury charter school.

Owens said the nursing home had closed a wing two years ago — and that wing has not reopened.


Nursing homes with low occupancies do face significant challenges staying open, Miller said.

Miller said the Edgar P. Benjamin nursing home’s occupancy rate is “really low” by national and state standards.

“For facilities that struggle for revenue, that have low revenue sources, that higher staffing is also a financial burden,” he said.

According to IRS filings, the nursing home reports it employed 117 people in 2021. That’s down from 157 in 2019 and 181 reported in 2020.

“Some nursing homes just don’t have the resources to recruit and retain staff,” Miller said. “And those nursing homes face challenges, so it’s really low occupancy combined with the difficult labor market that increases the risk of closures even among ostensibly higher quality facilities.”

Nationwide, over 100 nursing homes closed each year from 2011 through 2021, according to an August 2023 study in the Journal of Health Affairs Scholar.

An average of 118 nursing homes closed each year from 2011 to 2017 — before increasing to 143 in 2018 and 200 in 2019.

The rate of closures declined amid the height of the pandemic — at a time when the federal government sent COVID-19 aid to nursing homes.

But New England faces a higher rate of closure than other parts of the country: the 2023 study found closure rates were highest in two regions, New England and the South-Central states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Miller said factors playing into New England’s higher closure rate are varied — from the challenges facing aging, rural communities, to high costs in urban centers.

“It’s a highly competitive labor market,” he said. “There are a lot of alternatives, particularly in the health care sector… And prices are probably higher in New England.”

The 2023 study also found nursing homes with higher percentages of patients who are non-white, who receive Medicaid, and who have cognitive impairments are more likely to close.

Miller said those factors also line up with the demographics of the Edgar P. Benjamin nursing home: “African American clientele, it’s urban, and it’s high Medicaid.”


The State Department of Public Health says before the nursing home closes, the department has to approve its closure plan.

A public hearing is scheduled for March 12.

Employees, family members, and residents want the state to take over the nursing home through a receivership.

“We are pleading for anybody to help us because our residents are distraught,” Director of Nursing Marie Colsoul said.

“Some of the residents are telling me, ‘Marissa, please save us,’” she said. “So, this is what we are doing and try to save them because this is their home.”

Lynn Baptiste, whose father lives at the nursing home, said she was told she’d have to wait potentially years for a bed at a nearby nursing home.

“What am I going to do for a year to two years?” she said. “My father is not able to walk that good up and down stairs, anything like that. Put a tent in the back of my yard for him to stay there? What am I going to do?”

Other family members live out of state — making it even more challenging for them to find beds for loved ones who have lived at the nursing home for years.

The state Department of Public Health says for the nursing home to be placed under receivership, a court would have to be petitioned to appoint a receiver.

That law says “the attorney general or upon petition of the department or any interested party” can petition the court for a receivership.

State law says a receivership can only happen if a court finds an emergency exists that “presents imminent danger of death or serious physical harm to patients.”

Last month, a group of family members, employees, and community members sent a letter to the Attorney General and the Department of Public Health asking for a receivership and raising questions about CEO Tony Francis’ financial management.

“If you do not move swiftly, the harm to the patients, employees, facility, and community will be irreparable,” the letter reads. “We implore you to act.”

That letter also claimed the nursing home’s CEO is trying to sell the facility — even though the state has yet to approve the closure.

“On behalf of the staff, patient families, and the community of dedicated supporters we ask that you move to remove Mr. Francis, place the Facility in receivership, and give assurance to the families in full panic that their loved ones will be safe and secure, seek injunctive relieve [sic] to prevent any sale or transfer of the facility,” reads the letter.

Then last week, Sen. Miranda, state Rep. Samantha Montaño, and Boston City Councilor Benjamin Weber sent a letter to the commissioners of DPH, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs.

“In light of the notice of intent to close that was filed, we are requesting that the Department of Public Health, the Executive Officer of Elder Affairs, the State’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and the administration, take the necessary steps of appointing a receiver to the facility to prevent the displacement of residents, assess the feasibility and cost of preserving this facility, and ensure that a proper transition plan is adopted to build the facility’s leadership and capacity,” the letter reads.

“This closure is unacceptable to our constituents, and we have minimal confidence in the ability of this administration to successfully work with residents and families to minimize impact and ensure a smooth transition,” reads the letter. “We believe in the interim, this facility must remain open well beyond the proposed closure date of July 1, 2024.”

“We have reason to believe that the Benjamin and its officers are not acting in good faith,” the letter reads.

The lawmakers also raised concern about Francis’ salary, and bounced paychecks, in their letter, saying: “...with payroll checks bouncing, while Mr. Francis hoards a salary of more than a half of a million dollars annually, is abhorrent.”

Last week, the Boston City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling for the nursing home’s management to be more transparent with residents and family members.

“I think this is an opportunity for the state, for the city, to come together at the table and try to protect the most vulnerable residents and try to find solutions,” Boston City Councilor Henry Santana said. “Hopefully we can keep this center open.”

25 Investigates has spent weeks asking state and local agencies and officials about the next steps, including whether the state will end up seeking a receivership.

The AG’s office has declined comment.

The DPH said they’re closely monitoring the closure process.

“As required by the state’s long-term care facility voluntary closure guidelines, DPH is working with the facility’s operator to schedule a public hearing that will occur at least 90 days in advance of the proposed closure date,” DPH spokesperson Katheleen Conti said. “While it is the facility’s responsibility to identify new placements for residents, DPH will closely monitor the closure process and work with the Executive Office of Elder Affairs Long-Term Care Ombudsman to address any concerns brought to its attention.”

Sen. Miranda said she believes the potential closure poses enough of an emergency for the nursing home to be placed under receivership.

“What you have is a situation where someone hasn’t done their due diligence, and now many, many people’s lives are at stake,” she said.

“I think we need to intervene,” Miranda said. “And I don’t have any faith in the leader that’s currently there.”

In Part Two of our series – We investigate what has led to the potential closure, and dive into glaring questions about alleged financial mismanagement and wrongdoing at the nursing home.

And we ask: who should be overseeing the financial management of nursing homes?

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW