Project Renew’s capital campaign: Nathaniel Witherell pushes ahead

For years one of the biggest questions in Greenwich has been what to do about The Nathaniel Witherell, the town-owned nursing and rehabilitation center.

According to recent studies, Connecticut has the nation’s fifth highest percentage of residents age 65 and older and Greenwich is one of the few municipalities in the state to own a facility like the Witherell. And now, thanks to its ongoing Project Renew renovation project, things continue to turn around for the facility as questions about its future in town are left in the past.

Since its inception in 1903, the nursing home has served the community, providing skilled care for local senior citizens. The facility at 70 Parsonage Road is considered one of the country’s finest, among an exclusive 12% recognized by Medicare with a five-star rating, the highest level conferred upon nursing homes.

“It is in one of the great traditions of this town and that is philanthropy delivered through a public private partnership, where private citizens support their public institutions,” said David Ormsby, chairman of the Friends of the Nathaniel Witherell.

In order to continue its success, Nathaniel Witherell Project Renew is the major task of completely renovating the facility. According to Mr. Ormsby, this marks the “largest single attention that’s been paid to the building since 1933,” when the administration building was built. This endeavor will bring Nathaniel Witherell into health code compliance and create a modern facility with top-notch rehabilitation and physical therapy capabilities.

“We are now undertaking a transformative change in the physical facilities of Nathaniel Witherell to make up for 110 years of neglect, which will take us into an era where we will be highly competitive with surrounding alternatives, particularly in the short-term rehab area, which will really transfigure our facility in many ways,” said Mr. Ormsby.

The project, which has been in the making for more than a decade, was formally launched at a groundbreaking in January 2013. There are multiple major design changes underway, including doubling the size of the short-term rehabilitation center, eliminating outdated group rooms, introducing triple the number of single rooms, modernizing and adding elevators, and implementing a new electrical delivery system complete with new boilers and an emergency generator.

All of these transformative changes are part of the overall goal of modernizing the facility, with a particular focus on balancing the short-term and long-term populations of Nathaniel Witherell. The team is hoping to unveil the new, updated facilities in the fall of this year.

Project Renew’s positive changes are accompanied by a hefty price tag. At an estimated cost of $27 million, the Friends of the Nathaniel Witherell have launched a capital campaign to raise $7 million. To date, roughly $3.93 million has been raised from primarily private sources, led by Barbara and Ray Dalio’s recent gift of $1 million. The Dalio Foundation’s generous gift has brought the campaign firmly past the halfway mark, and added considerable momentum.

Support continues on both the town and state levels. The State of Connecticut has agreed to provide up to $12 million over a 20-year period. On May 19, Gov. Malloy announced the issuance of a grant to the Town of Greenwich for the purposes of Project Renew, in the amount of $500,000, under the State’s Small Town Economic Assistance Program. Mr. Ormsby also tells the Post that Nathaniel Witherell has received money from the State’s Historic Structures Organization

“We are really attempting to leave no stone unturned in terms of accessing funding for this capital campaign,” said Mr. Ormsby. “We finally have the stars in alignment with both federal, state, town approvals and I’m pleased to see the end of this in sight.”

At its June 9 meeting, the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) will be discussing Nathaniel Witherell’s application for a $150,000 grant for energy conservation tax credit under the State Neighborhood Assistance Act. Debby Lash, co-chair of Project Renew along with Mr. Ormsby and Karen Sadik-Khan, says she’s fairly optimistic that they will receive this approval. Also in the works is an approval for a $48,000 Community Development Block Grant, which would fund a friendship garden.

Thus far, the Friends report that construction is proceeding smoothly on time and on budget. Nathaniel Witherell has continued to operate during construction and refurbishment, saving the town considerable money and preserving its existing population.

“It’s allowed us to limit the disruption of people’s lives and to care for people during this time period,” said Ms. Lash.

Meanwhile, the Friends of Nathaniel Witherell are dedicated to reaching the $7-million mark. Mr. Ormsby and Ms. Lash credit the leadership of individuals such as First Selectman Peter Tesei and State Rep. Livvy Floren (R-149th) for their support at “all stages in the process.” There is no deadline for the capital campaign, and the remainder of Project Renew’s costs will be financed by the Town of Greenwich.

The team is also committed to raising public consciousness of what an “extraordinary institution” Nathaniel Witherell is. Next on the schedule, estimated for an early fall date, is a ribbon-cutting where the public will be welcomed to the newly refurbished and improved Nathaniel Witherell. In September, there will be a golf tournament at the Stanwich Club.

“We continue to actively pursue any funding sources which either come to our attention or we think are susceptible of bearing fruit,” said Mr. Ormsby.

Today, Nathaniel Witherell continues to enjoy vocal support from the community and its residents, who comment on the facility’s high quality of care, comfortable experience, and patient satisfaction. Mr. Ormsby and Ms. Lash credit the nursing home’s dedicated staff, characterized by an annual turnover of roughly 7%, as compared to the nation’s annual turnover rate of 45%. For the second consecutive year, Nathaniel Witherell has been selected by the U.S. News World and Report as one of the finest nursing homes in Connecticut.

“In terms of the clinical outcomes, in almost all of the 38 monitored categories, it exceeds significantly the normal state and federal ratings,” said Mr. Ormsby.

With its assisted living facilities, hospital, nursing centers, Nathaniel Witherell is certainly a significant resource for the town. Thanks to Project Renew, it will be restored and continue to serve generations of Greenwich residents to come.

“The caliber of care is extraordinarily high and these kinds of institutions provide a very important component to the life in this community,” Ms. Lash said.

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