By Daymond Steer
EFFINGHAM — Lakeview NeuroRehabilitation Center's chief executive officer says he will have to either shut the center's doors or sell the facility because of the state Board of Education's refusal to allow Lakeview's school remain open.
Lakeview is an 88-bed residential facility in Effingham that cares for individuals with physical, neurological, cognitive and behavioral impairments. It has a main house and smaller units called cabins on its campus. It also operates a school that serves students with special needs in grades one through 12, serving students ages 8 to 21.
In a letter dated April 10, Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry informed Lakeview Chief Operating Officer Tina Trudel that the Department of Education is ordering a "cessation of operation" of the special education program and that New Hampshire districts that send students to Lakeview must find somewhere else to place their students within 60 days.
Lakeview's appeal, made Wednesday, was unsuccessful.
On Thursday, Lakeview released a statement from CEO Chris Slover via MBS Value Partners, a public relations company. Lakeview has 281 employees and 52 residents that will have to be relocated.
"We are saddened by the New Hampshire Department of Education's decision to deny our appeal of the closure order for the Lakeview School," said Slover in the statement.
"The economic impact of the school closure combined with the state's moratorium on new residents for the Lakeview NeuroRehabilitation Center — and the impact that it's had on out-of-state placements — make it economically impossible to continue operating the facility. Therefore, we will begin working immediately on a plan for an orderly shutdown of the Lakeview."
Slover added he is working on a plan to transition Lakeview to another operator.
"Our top priority, as always, is the well-being of our residents and employees, and we will do all that we can with all stakeholders as the closure planning process moves forward," said Slover.
Barry, in her letter, painted a different picture.
"Lakeview School has consistently failed to comply," wrote Barry. "This non-compliance has been severe and long-lasting."
In her letter, Barry said Lakeview's teachers lack the "appropriate credentials and or endorsements" and that the school also has failed to show curriculum or lesson plans on which their high school diplomas are based.
Barry could not be reached by press time.
Board member Helen Honorow said six board members voted unanimously to uphold Barry's decision. She said the board encouraged Lakeview to reapply to be an approved program.
New Hampshire Public Radio covered the meeting at the state Board of Education.
"I just kept feeling the disconnect with what they were saying they have and what was actually happening with kids in the school," NHPR quoted board member Cindy Chagnon as saying.
William Hinkle, a spokesman for Gov. Maggie Hassan, offered a brief statement about the situation.
"In monitoring Lakeview, the state has been preparing for a possible shutdown, including transition plans for New Hampshire residents and communicating closely with other states to encourage them to make similar plans," said Hinkle.
"The state will be working with Lakeview to develop a plan that puts the health and safety of our vulnerable citizens first and will work with families and area agencies to ensure that we transition New Hampshire patients to the most appropriate care.
"In addition, New Hampshire Employment Security will work with Lakeview to connect affected workers with services and other job opportunities."
At the end of last year, Hassan ordered a series of reviews of Lakeview and the Department of Health and Human Service's handling of Lakeview over the years.
The governor made those moves after the Disability Rights Center lodged complaints detailing, among other things, the case of a patient named J.D. who died in 2012 after suffering what the center called "horrific" neglect.
Perhaps the most well-known incident involving Lakeview was the 2013 case of an 18-year-old patient named Joelle, who ran away from the center and was found a few days later on Green Mountain.
The Disability Rights Center has been calling for Lakeview to shut down since the end of last year but had concerns for years before that.
"I think this is really good news," Karen Rosenberg, an attorney with the Disability Rights Center, who believes that Lakeview put patients and employees health and safety in jeopardy.
Rosenberg believes there are about 57 residents at Lakeview and maybe 14 people at the school.
Rosenberg said there is now an opportunity to have Lakeview residents treated in communities rather than the isolated facility at Lakeview. She hopes staff will find opportunities to work in the field under better conditions.
In December of last year, a review team found a number of deficiencies regarding staffing, supervision, communication, crisis management, training and more.
Lakeview created a "Plan of Correction" to address those deficiencies, and the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services accepted the plan in March.
The governor also ordered an independent consultant to look at Lakeview's quality of service and New Hampshire's oversight and monitoring of Lakeview.
Kathryn du Pree of Crosswinds Consulting was hired to do that work.
One of du Pree's reports is called "Review of the Quality of Services at Lakeview NeuroRehabilitative Center and the Center's Capacity for Quality Improvement" and is 66 pages long.
The other, "Review of New Hampshire's Oversight and Monitoring of the Services Provided by Lakeview NeuroRehabilitative Center," is about 25 pages. Du Pree, in one of her reports was pessimistic that Lakeview could meet its commitments in a reasonable period of time.
Effingham Selectman Henry Spencer said he couldn't speak for the board but said he found the news "distressing" because many people from the community work at Lakeview.
Conway Selectman John Colbath, who has a background in nursing, said Lakeview is a major regional employer and people from as far away as the seacoast and Portland work there.
He said there are very few facilities that can handle the patients that Lakeview houses.