The Nathaniel Witherell celebrates Project Renew’s completion

Everyone was all smiles as the work of Project Renew was officially shown off at an open house last week at The Nathaniel Witherell. From left, Executive Director Allen Brown, chairman of the Witherell Board of Directors David Ormsby and First Selectman Peter Tesei cut the ribbon. –John Ferris Robben

Everyone was all smiles as the work of Project Renew was officially shown off at an open house last week at The Nathaniel Witherell. From left, Executive Director Allen Brown, chairman of the Witherell Board of Directors David Ormsby and First Selectman Peter Tesei cut the ribbon. –John Ferris Robben

After years of work and more than a few false starts, the Nathaniel Witherell’s Project Renew has finally reached completion and the town-owned rehab center opened its doors to the public last week for a gallant celebration.

First Selectman Peter Tesei, Selectman David Theis and former First Selectman Jim Lash were just a few of the Project Renew supporters in attendance as the short-term rehabilitation and nursing center enjoyed an afternoon some 10 years in the making.

The festivities included a full spread of hors d’oeuvres, desserts and drinks, as well as musical performances from the Melody Men, the Grace Notes and a Greenwich High School string trio. Members of The Nathaniel Witherell staff offered visitors full tours of the expanded facilities, including the new rehabilitation wing and renovated private rooms. The open house attracted not just many of the state representatives who had worked to bring the project to fruition but the candidates looking to join them in Hartford.

“The Nathaniel Witherell is such a wonderful facility and community asset, and they worked hard to renovate so they could provide the best possible care to our community and their residents,” Jill Oberlander, the Democratic candidate for the 150th General Assembly District, told the Post. “I’m so pleased to be here to congratulate them on the culmination of all that hard work.”

Initial plans for an overhaul of The Nathaniel Witherell facilities began a decade ago, as the town contemplated ways to make the municipal-owned center self-sustaining. After the initial plan for a completely new building fell apart, Project Renew was done as a renovation from the inside and saw The Nathaniel Witherell expand the number of private rooms from 26 to 64, with a total of 86 resident rooms being remodeled and redecorated in the process. The rehabilitation center incorporates the latest in modern equipment, including kitchen, laundry and bathroom training spaces to help patients practice daily functions prior to going home.

“Our goal is to keep it at 88% occupancy. You can’t really shoot for 100%, patients go home and the ones who would replace them are still at the hospital and don’t get discharged until the end of the week,” Witherell Executive Director Allen Brown said. “But since we opened in July, we’ve had enormous support. We’ve had several occasions where the beds were completely full, no room at the inn, so to speak.”

With Project Renew complete, the long-term goal of The Nathaniel Witherell will be to maintain a high level of occupancy and reach a point where the rehabilitation center can operate without cost to the town. A major part of that goal will rest upon short-term rehab services, which provide a more consistent stream of revenue than long-term nursing. The renovations greatly expanded the Witherell’s capacity for short-term rehabilitation care, allowing the staff to treat more patients with the new, state-of-the-art therapy equipment.

“It’s been a long haul. I’ve had a lot of collegiate help for the last 10 years, it’s really been a team effort,” Friends of Nathaniel Witherell Chairman David Ormsby said, thanking the staff of the rehabilitation center, those involved with the town’s building committee and those who contributed to the Project Renew capital campaign.

Mr. Ormsby has been involved with Project Renew since its inception, campaigning on behalf of The Nathaniel Witherell and briefing the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) on the details of the project. His persistent efforts over the last decade have not gone unnoticed by the center’s supporters.

“His willingness to do that work, and spend the time to understand what their concerns were and get them to the point where they’re confident with the project, David gets a lot of credit for this,” Mr. Lash, who was in office when the renovation effort began, said. “Of course I told him it was going to be about two years, and it’s been 11.”

Project Renew’s $27 million in construction costs required a number of approvals, including a state certificate of need providing a significant portion of the funding. Additionally, the Friends have raised more than $9 million in private and public funding for Project Renew but are still working toward a goal of $7 million from private donors alone.

“We are going to go public, to a broader community-wide solicitation within a month or so,” Mr. Ormsby said. “We are still trying to reach, in our quiet way, some potential donors that we missed or were away during the summer months.”

Mr. Tesei spoke of the role of The Nathaniel Witherell, and its role in maintaining the legacy of volunteerism and public-private partnership in Greenwich. “The legacy that this town has had for generations is to care for its own and to apply not only our monetary resources but our personal resources for the betterment of others,” he said. “That clearly is well exhibited here at Nathaniel Witherell in everything it has done for its many decades, and it will continue to do. And I just want to acknowledge all of the people of the people who made that possible.”

The Nathaniel Witherell has served the community for more than 111 years as one of the state’s only municipally owned nursing centers, and with the renovations, will continue to be firm institution within the town. Though the permanent certificates of occupancy had not been received at the time of the open house, the center has seen a boom in residents since the first new rooms were opened in July, and has been operating near capacity since.

“It’s nice to have a full house,” Mr. Brown said.

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