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Local News

July 5, 2011

New England Homes for the Deaf stops taking new deaf-blind residents

DANVERS — The New England Homes for the Deaf is one of only two facilities in the nation that offers specialized nursing home care and assisted living for people who are both blind and deaf. But, faced with financial problems, it has had to stop accepting those patients — a decision the director calls "heartbreaking."

At issue is the state reimbursement rate, which Executive Director Emmanuel Ikomi said lags far behind the cost of caring for deaf-blind residents.

Deaf-blind residents require additional staff time and interpreters who are not covered by state reimbursements for nursing home residents, Ikomi said. Even an extra add-on rate is not enough to keep up with the costs, he said, as the deaf-blind population has quadrupled in recent years from four to 16, straining resources and the homes' endowment.

The homes' officials are aware of the irony of not accepting any more deaf-blind residents, since the famous deaf-blind author and activist Helen Keller and her instructor and teacher, Ann Sullivan, were directly responsible for bringing what was then the New England Home for Deaf Mutes from Everett to Danvers in 1925.

Ikomi said he gets calls from all over the country asking him to take people in at the homes, which include independent living apartments, assisted living and nursing home care, all tailored for the deaf and blind. But, he said, "if we do not get the help, we cannot continue to take anymore deaf-blind residents at the home."

The board of trustees, which stopped deaf-blind admissions a few months ago, has put the issue to the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind and asked for more help. An official for the commission could not be reached for comment Friday.

"The state has to recognize that things do cost more," said Thomas Boudrow of Peabody, the homes' chairman, who is deaf.

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