Photos by Dan Bates / The Herald
                                Chris Walsh and his wife, Carol, talk outside the Delta Rehabilitation Center about their plans to close the care facility long known as the Snohomish Chalet. Chris is the owner and administrator of the nursing home that cares for people with severe brain injuries. Carol has worked as a nurse there for many years.

Photos by Dan Bates / The Herald Chris Walsh and his wife, Carol, talk outside the Delta Rehabilitation Center about their plans to close the care facility long known as the Snohomish Chalet. Chris is the owner and administrator of the nursing home that cares for people with severe brain injuries. Carol has worked as a nurse there for many years.

Delta Rehabilitation, home to brain injury victims, to close

“There’s no replacement,” head of care facility agency says of place once known as Snohomish Chalet.

For the Walsh family, caring for people is personal. Their Delta Rehabilitation Center, long known as the Snohomish Chalet, is home to many who’ve suffered severe brain injuries. The son of the nursing home’s founder lives there.

Soon, Delta’s 104 residents will have to move. Its 134 employees and residents’ families learned last week that Delta will close sometime this year.

“Special Announcement,” says a notice on the Delta Foundation website. “It is with great sadness that we are having to close the doors to Delta this year. Diminished family health and dwindling funding issues compel us to this very hard decision.”

Chris Walsh, Delta’s 67-year-old owner and its administrator since 1979, talked Thursday about reasons for the closure — a hope to retire and what he said are insufficient Medicaid reimbursement rates.

“We took people other nursing homes wouldn’t,” he said. Today, about 70 percent of Delta residents are men, nearly all are on Medicaid, and the majority are affected by some type of brain injury.

With a variety of activities — rock concerts, summer festivals and outings — he said Delta’s aim has been “to provide a rich experience” for people who are generally younger than those in most nursing homes.

“We were successful, except for the money,” said Walsh, who with his wife Carol is ready for retirement. The couple met at the Snohomish Chalet. “She was a nurse, I was a maintenance man,” he quipped.

He explained the history of the 22-acre site, which from 1918 to 1954 was the county’s Aldercrest Tuberculosis Sanatorium. His parents, Wally and Donna Walsh, bought it in the 1950s. They initially leased it to a company that ran the nursing home, which opened in 1960.

Walsh shared the 1975 tragedy that severely disabled his younger brother. Mike Walsh, 20 at the time, was driving to Everett Community College when his Volkswagen was struck by a car that made a left turn in front of him. He spent seven months in a coma.

By then, their parents managed the Snohomish Chalet, and moved Mike there. The facility nicknamed for its architectural touches reminiscent of Switzerland has been his home ever since. His injuries left him unable to speak or walk, but he learned to communicate through technology and is an involved member of the Delta community.

Wally Walsh, whose upbeat motto for Delta was “living life,” was 84 when he died in 2016. His widow makes her home on the property, which is graced with gardens and a gazebo. Chris Walsh said his sister, Sarah Scarfo, is Mike’s guardian. “She’s a nurse, and his niece,” he said.

A former Snohomish City Council member, Chris Walsh acknowledged that the century-old buildings “are not young.” Delta is not on a federal Special Focus Facility Program list of nursing homes targeted for improvements. However, it is on the program’s current list of hundreds of facilities nationwide that qualify for the program.

Delta is far from the only care facility to struggle with low Medicaid reimbursement rates.

“We’ve had 21 closures in the last three years statewide — rural and urban, for-profit and not-for-profit,” said Robin Dale, CEO of the Washington Health Care Association. The nonprofit represents assisted living and skilled nursing facilities around the state.

Medicaid reimbursement rates, he said, are the primary cause of those closures.

Dale said a 2018 analysis, involving his group and the state Department of Social and Health Services, found an annual shortfall of $116 million — “the cost of care versus the rate that’s paid annually, for Washington state only.”

In Olympia last week, time effectively ran out for Senate Bill 6515, which would have helped boost those rates.

Delta is hit especially hard, Dale said, because of an intake tool that uses acuity — basically the requirement for nursing care — as a federal measure of how much Medicaid pays. The rate is higher for an elderly bedridden person, needing more constant care, than for someone who may be more able physically but has severe behavioral issues, Dale said.

Walsh said the types of Delta residents with brain injuries have run the gamut, “from all different walks of life.” There have been victims of gun violence and skateboard accidents, a contractor who built a mall, and a man who crashed his Porsche.

“Unfortunately, with Delta, there’s no replacement facility. There’s not a facility like it,” Dale said. Asked where its residents will go, he said the expectation is that most will end up in adult family homes.

He’s been impressed with the activities at Delta. “There’s something going on there hourly almost, in terms of activities for those residents,” Dale said.

Along with new homes for those in Delta’s care, many of its 134 employees will need jobs. Many have worked there for years, and see Delta as a close-knit community.

“A lot of generations of families have worked here,” said Shelly Dana, 46, who now works in administration but has done many jobs over her decade at Delta. “There’s not a day, seven days a week, when there’s not a Walsh here. They’ve been in the trenches.”

Dana doesn’t plan to look for a new job anytime soon. “A huge majority of us are going to be here until the doors close, just making sure these people have the care they need,” she said.

Walsh doesn’t have a closing date. “It’s a long process, making sure these people get homes,” he said.

And, he said, the pastoral property that’s now part of a residential neighborhood is for sale.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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