Missing home after Life Care closure | Guest Column

By Bob Weaver

For more than 50 years, my home base was on Waldron Island where I gardened and where I raised a family. During that time I also spent several years commuting to Mount Vernon and Friday Harbor to work in their county health departments. I made the first inspection of the kitchen in the Friday Harbor Nursing Home, which much later became the Life Care Center. A friend of mine in the State Health Department said the Friday Harbor Nursing Home had the finest operation in Washington state.

A local couple, the Carters, founded the home in the 1960s or 70s. They had a personal interest in the community, which contributed greatly to the success of the home.

I spent five years as a resident in the LCC and was recently turned out into the rain and wind, along with all residents, staff, nurses, aides and many others, who suddenly lost their jobs. In the end, the LCC was not a life care facility but a corporation with no conscience. As a big money-making enterprise, the corporation could have absorbed much of its loss in Friday Harbor and allowed the LCC to continue serving the community. Now that community has no nursing facility, something that it desperately needs. To close it down with no warning or attempt to make it a more sustainable business, seems criminal.

(Editor’s note: Last May, Todd Fletcher, vice president of western operations for Life Care Centers of America, said he could not sell the San Juan branch of the national company due to the inability to gain profits from the business. In the final years, he said, the company lost up to $1.2 million annually. The facility closed about two months after the official announcement. Evan Perrollaz, who chairs a task force that is researching how to bring the services offered at LCC back to the islands, added that the home’s model was outdated and that an identical facility would likely never return to the island, though the group is working on other options.)

The local employees who kept the LCC running, all those who worked there every day, were extraordinary in the way they treated their patients. We felt they cared about us. That feeling is missing where I live now.

I also want to mention by name several of the volunteers who appeared quite regularly at the LCC to provide entertainment of a kind more stimulating than Bingo. David Bayley, excellent on the piano, came nearly every week to play ragtime and blues. The San Juan Jazz Quintet was there once a month, taking requests for old favorites. We also had Grisha, a world-class pianist and composer, who remembered the names of every one of the residents who came to his performances. And there was Don Galt, a retired construction worker, who was self-taught on the piano and knew all the songs we might ask for. These volunteers gave us a lot of pleasure.

A nursing home in Friday Harbor or on Orcas might not be a big money-making enterprise, but it is, nevertheless, vitally necessary. Special care is something many of us will need sooner or later. And when we need it, it should be available to us near home.

I’m Bob Weaver, hiking down the road just looking for a home near Friday Harbor.

Bob Weaver now lives in Anacortes.