Seventeen residents at a local retirement and residential facility on Old Shell Road are searching for a new place to call home after the building was recently sold to a group of investors and will now be used by Spring Hill College.

Joanne Bolling, 82, who signed a lifetime lease with Mercy Medical’s Portier Place in 2008, said residents were notified of the news last week but are still confused about who is responsible for the decision. Mercy Medical owns the building she calls home, but Spring Hill College owns the land.

Portier Place

“To say we were shocked wouldn’t cover it,” Bolling said. “All of us are going out now and trying to find a place to live. We were under the impression that this was going to be our home and we would never have to leave, unless there was some physical or mental disability that we had. It’s really sad.”

According to Mercy Medical officials, the building, which sits on land leased from Spring Hill College, will be repurposed, and current residents of Portier Place will be provided with assistance finding a new housing facility in the area.

“Mercy Medical divested all of its residential facilities, with the exception of Portier Place, in 2011. Our shift to focusing exclusively on the home health, hospice and PACE programming that has become so critical to our communities will be complete with this sale,” Mercy Medical officials said in a prepared statement. “Portier Place residents were recently notified of the closing of the facility and the sale and we have offered our support to them in terms of transition planning. With each sale, our highest priorities have been to respect the welfare of residents during what is always a difficult change and to keep the community updated.”

A press release from Mercy Medical said the institution several years ago underwent a mission transformation, aimed more at focusing their efforts and resources on their core healthcare ministries of home and community-based services, mainly home health, hospice and PACE, or “Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly” for individuals require nursing home care.

The residential facilities sold in 2011 include a rehabilitation hospital and skilled nursing facility, officials said. According to Mercy Medical Executive Director Necie Borroni, the sale of Portier Place completes the transformation.

“Although it is certainly not easy to do, for Mercy to truly focus on its core ministry of home and community-based services, we needed to move forward with this divestiture,” she said in the news release.

According to Bolling, she and two other residents at Portier Place purchased a lifetime contract policy offered by Mercy Medical and were under the impression they were entitled to live at Portier Place for the remainder of their lives, unless a disabling condition lead them to need care provided by an assisted-living home or nursing home.

“We don’t understand,” she said. “We are just puzzled by everything.”
Bolling said she spent between $140,000 and $150,000 for the life-care contract.

“They’re supposed to take care of us,” she said. “I thought in the contract that we had, that we were entitled to stay here.”

According to Donna Wilhelm, vice president of marketing and government relations for Mercy Medical, residents who purchased a “life-care program” will still be entitled to all of its benefits.

“We still intend to honor the contract,” she said. “It’s a real hedge against inflations and much less if you were just private pay in a facility.”

The program, which Wilhelm said Mercy Medical used to sell years ago, pays for future care such as assisted living and long-term care, essentially allowing pre-payments of anticipated health care costs. Wilhelm went on to say all residents who purchased life-care contracts will continue to have access to the same services Portier Place provided at other retirement communities.

As an example, Wilhelm said if life-care contract holders require assisted living or long-term care, they would continue to pay their normal rate for independent living and Mercy Medical would pick up the rest of the cost.

Furthermore, Mercy Medical will contract to whichever residential facility the residents choose to live and continue to honor and monitor those contracts just as if residents remained at Portier Place, according to Wilhelm.

“She will never see an increase in her bill, even though the rate might increase,” she said.

Wilhelm said Mercy Medical was not actively marketing the building, but were introduced to a group of interested buyers by a former board member who was aware of their interest in the property, and both parties came to a “mutually beneficial agreement.”

While Mercy Medical could not disclose the names of the buyers, Wilhelm said the building will definitely be repurposed, meaning the buyers have no intentions of running it as a retirement facility.

Fred Salancy, vice president for advancement at Spring Hill College, said he could not speak on any specific plans for the building at this time. However, he did provide Lagniappe with a prepared statement from the college.

“Spring Hill College has a friendly, strong and long-standing relationship with Mercy Medical since 1991 and has enjoyed being a neighbor of Portier Place and its residents during this time,” the statement reads. “We are not purchasing Portier Place from Mercy but recently learned of its intent to divest itself of the facility. Following this announcement, it became our hope and expectation to enter into an agreement to lease the repurposed space from a third-party purchaser. Such an agreement would be very welcome in our educational community, but we recognize that the transition creates challenges for residents and their families. We respect the efforts of Mercy Medical to support residents and their families with transition planning.”

Portier Place residents have until June 30 to move before the sale is finalized.
“Whoever is responsible, it’s just a wrong thing to do,” Bolling said. “I know it’s a business, but it’s a Catholic faith-based business, either one of them, and they’re here to take care of people like us. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Even if it costs them money, and this place may not be making money, you still don’t throw people out of their homes.”