MILWAUKEE – Catholic Charities announced last month that the organization will close two of its residential group homes for the disabled and elderly in May. The decision was reached after nearly three years of strategic planning and priority setting by its board of directors.

According to Catholic Charities’ executive director James M. Brennan, the decision to close the two group homes – while a struggle – was in the long run the best choice for the organization and the residents. In 2008, the Catholic Charities board directed and authorized the organization to suspend services to the ministry to the disabled, which involved a number of residential settings for disabled adults, according to Brennan.
“Largely, our work with the residential care for the disabled was one which was begun almost 25 years ago and has taken a number of different forms, but our board had found that by 2008, that there were many other providers that were offering residential care and treatment to the disabled, and that our service role did not really have the sort of cost effectiveness that we wanted to have,” Brennan explained. “…We found that the services to residential folks – the disabled and elderly – are now being done by quite a few folks, and actually they’re doing them on a scale by which they can do it in a cost effective way to provide care.”
Catholic Charities – an entity incorporated separately from the Milwaukee Archdiocese – had provided care to elderly and disabled residents through group homes provided by ARA Inc., a non-profit organization separate from Catholic Charities, that owns the group homes located on the north and south sides of Milwaukee, each with room for eight residents. ARA Inc. built those homes 25 years ago with a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mortgage.

Resident and staff transitions in motion
While some residents have lived in these two group homes for years, Brennan is confident they can be placed in another group home that can provide them with just as much care.
“We work very closely with Milwaukee County, who is sort of the overall care coordinator, and we are working very closely with families, primarily to keep them informed,” he explained. “But our basic goal here is – although the law requires that you give a certain notice on a certain deadline – our transition is one where we can safely and thoughtfully transition our clients.
“We’ve already taken three years to reach this decision. It’s not as though 60 days from now we close the doors,” Brennan added.

Finding suitable group homes for residents is in progress, he added.

“We (Catholic Charities) wanted to make sure that we were as fair as we could be to our clients, many of whom we have served for many, many years,” he explained. “And we also wanted to make sure that we were fair to our employees, many of whom have worked for us for many years. We have had contacts from other service providers who do this sort of work, although on a much larger scale, and there is some interest in another provider certainly providing services to the clients.
“So, we feel that a transition of the clients can be done in a way that meets their best interests and we also do believe that there are current employees that provide the caretaking services that should also, by and large, be picked up by other service providers.”

Inadequate funding from a variety of sources also led to Catholic Charties’ decision to end its program for residential living for the disabled and elderly, Brennan explained.

Because of the low demand for this type of service – as well as the number of larger organizations providing group living within the Milwaukee area – Catholic Charities decided to end the program. Staff that have been working within the two group homes are also in transition to transfer to another group home service provider.
“We have had many inquiries of interest, both with respect to the continued care of the people we’ve served, and as well hiring the caretakers who’ve served them. So, we do think that a fair enough transition will be able to be made for both the clients of Catholic Charities that we provide services to, and also our employees,” he said.
Families’ reactions are mixed
Most of the residents’ family members have been understanding of the need to close the homes, according to Brennan.

“I would say overwhelmingly the response has been understanding and grateful. That said, it’s difficult for family members who have had a loved one cared for in a long-term residential setting, to have those service providers stop. That relationship between service provider and resident is one that is really a very full one and complete one, and their caretakers are often seen as very important to the residents they serve.
“Indeed, there are some family members who are understandably concerned about their loved ones, and also understandably concerned about the relationship between their loved ones and the caretakers who have worked so well for some time. So, there certainly are some folks who have understandably raised that sort of concern,” he added.