Marian Manor, a fixture in the South Boston community for the past 50 years, is looking for a new home.
Named Marian Manor because it was opened in 1954, the Marian year, the nursing home started out with 150 beds for the elderly. Over the years, the facility has grown from the two buildings that formerly housed Carney Hospital, to four buildings, a chapel, an auditorium and over 350 beds, becoming the largest nursing home in the state.
The Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, who have administered the nursing home since it opened, have increased the size of the facility to an entire city block in order to house more residents and provide better care for the elderly. Now they are finding that there is no more room to expand.
But expansion was not the sisters’ only concern. They have also found it difficult to operate in a facility where two of the buildings are over 80 years old, parking for staff and visitors is sparse and some buildings are not air conditioning compatible.
Independent studies done by Marian Manor have also confirmed that people increasingly prefer independent and assisted-living care over a strict nursing home setting.
"The way long term care is provided has changed and is changing," explained Sister Mark Louis Randall, O.Carm., who became administrator of Marian Manor seven months ago. "The push is to keep people out of facilities as long as possible and give them other alternatives such independent living and assisted living before they then need to go to a nursing home."
Sister Mark, her predecessors and the board of directors looked into adding independent and assisted living developments to the present site but found that such a project would be “too difficult” and “very costly.”
Seven years ago, the process of finding a new site for the nursing home began. The search began in South Boston, but soon branched out to the Greater Boston and South Shore areas.
"Property is extremely expensive here so then we widened our circle a little and we started to look outside of the Greater Boston area," Sister Mark said. "We didn't want to go too far away because we wanted our staff to be able to go with us and the families to be able to visit the residents."
As of the last week in August, the sisters had secured an eight acre site adjacent to the Quarry Hills Golf Course in Quincy, just seven miles from its present location. Sister Mark hopes that this close proximity will allow the majority of the 480 employees and nine Carmelites to remain with Marian Manor.
The land, which was formerly a quarry area, will have to be studied before a new nursing home can be built. Sister Mark described the location, which looks out on the golf course as both “spectacular” and “magnificent.”
"It is exciting, but it's also scary for people. We've been here for so long and this is all we've known," she said. "We love South Boston and we'd have liked to stay here if we could have found land... but we have to think about the needs of people that's what's driving this. We need to think of the future of the care for the elderly and build something that will bring us into this new millennium of care for the elderly."
Part of the future of elder care is providing independent and assisted living quarters to better “serve different populations of the elderly.”
A section of the new Marian Manor will be reserved for independent living for those who need minimal care. A portion of that section will be for assisted living for people with beginning stages of dementia.
"Traditional assisted living is not what we are going to be doing," stated Sister Mark. "We've been doing studies in the area and they have too many assisted living beds now, but what they don't have is a special one for people with beginning stages of dementia."
The new facility, which will accommodate roughly 350 people, will house between 200 and 240 nursing beds, that will be designed to provide more private space for each resident than rooms at the present Marian Manor.
"We want to build a building with more of a neighborhood-type of concept rather than big long halls... we want to build clusters of rooms--in a clustered area, residents feel a little more at home where it isn't such a 'big institution' feel."
Sister Mark sent a letter to residents in June to inform them that the sisters were looking for a new site to house Marian Manor. A recent article in The Boston Globe stating that the present South Boston location would have to be sold within one year caused a stir among residents, their families and the staff.
Sister Mark, who had hoped to brief the residents and staff of the potential move before the story hit the papers “prematurely,” spent the week allying fears and answering questions.
"The property does not have to be sold in a year," she told The Pilot. “That is inaccurate.”
"It's not going to happen right away," she said. "It will be between three and five years before we'd be setting foot into a new building," she said, adding that the move is more likely to be at the far end of that time frame.
Until them “we will responsibly look for someone to come here and get the best use of the property,” stated Sister Mark. “We certainly want something that will serve the needs of the community.”
But it will be difficult to break the ties that Marian Manor has formed with the South Boston community.
Many of those living in Marian Manor have been residents of South Boston all their lives, explained Sister Mark. She also noted that at one time Marian Manor was one of the largest employers in South Boston. Marian Manor also sponsors local sports teams and lends its auditorium to the Dorchester Heights Association for its monthly meetings.
"We've tried to be good neighbors," she added.
The decision to leave South Boston was “not an easy step” but “you have to do hard things sometimes,” explained Sister Mark who compares the current situation to the vision of her order’s foundress Mother M. Angeline Teresa McCrory, O.Carm.
"Her vision was to care for the American elderly... she began our community because she felt that there were needs that were not being met at the time in 1929," said Sister Mark. "This project carries on that tradition-- that times change and you have to move with what the needs are for this current generation of people, so we are following in her footsteps in that sense, in trying to carry out that mission of caring for the elderly."