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Benjamin Center: ‘…a gem on the hill’

Nakia Hill
Benjamin Center: ‘…a gem on the hill’
A student from Roxbury Prep works with Benjamin Healthcare Center patients. (Photo: Benjamin Healthcare Center)

The Edgar P. Benjamin Healthcare Center is dispelling all rumors that the nursing home and rehabilitation center is closing. 

“We’re not closing and we are a gem on the hill that needs to be known,” said Myrna E. Wynn, the center’s CEO and president.

The rumors began when the Goddard House, a nursing home located nearby, closed on Sept. 8. Since then, the Benjamin Center has been receiving numerous phone calls about the possibility that they too were shutting down.

The rumors are unfounded. In fact, the elderly home and rehabilitation center, located in Roxbury near Heath Street and Parker Hill, is on an active campaign to increase visitors to the facility and utilize the center’s services. 

“We encourage people to come see the facility because when you enter the lobby it will feel like home,” said Guirlande Olivier Admissions and Marketing Representative. 

Benjamin Healthcare Center has been home for many people of color since founder Edgar Benjamin, an African American attorney, opened it in 1927.

Edgar founded Resthaven, which was renamed Benjamin Healthcare Center in 1995 after Myrna E. Wynn was appointed to head the facility. Edgar donated the health center to the community as a charitable corporation dedicated to “providing a home or shelter for and to otherwise assist all people without regard to race, creed or color.” 

Today, the center has 220 staff members, including two doctors and dozens of nurses and rehab professionals. More than 80 percent of its staff are people of color, which reflects the culturally diverse populations it serves. 

Although Benjamin Healthcare Center prides itself on providing quality care to the community, it has 12 empty beds that have been difficult to fill. Part of the problem, Wynn explains, is that the center is at the bottom of the list when it comes to patient referrals from major hospitals in the city. 

“The case managers really hold your facility in the palm of their hand,” she said. “This industry has become a dog eat dog world.”

All too often, Wynn said, some patients and their families look at newly renovated health care facilities and think that means they provide the best care.  “They can’t see the care, but they can see the aesthetics,” Wynn said.  

Another factor that is hurting Benjamin is Medicare, which Wynn says does not completely reimburse the facility for its care. She also said that there is a new trend in elderly care. More families are opting to take care of their family members at home, Wynn explained, which has caused a slight decrease in patient enrollment and has heightened financial struggles. 

“We just have our head above water, we’re barely making it,” said Wynn. 

Benjamin has five employees who have worked at the health care center for more than 35 years. Many of its employees refer their family members to work for or receive services at Benjamin. One such person is Certified Nursing Assistant Guerda Cadet. She has worked at Benjamin for 32 years after being referred by her mother. 

“I love the family atmosphere and how people try to support one another,” said Cadet.

The Center offers programming such as its intergenerational program, which offers 8th-grade students from the Roxbury Preparatory School, which is housed above the healthcare center’s building, the chance to visit and do activities with the seniors.

Benjamin also has a professional hair stylist come in every Monday to style residents’ hair. They provide laundry service, healthy dining options, and have a floor dedicated to Haitian natives, which is decorated with Caribbean-inspired paintings on the wall and staffed with Creole speakers on the floor.

Wynn said that it may cost over $12 million to renovate the facility and she doesn’t know how they will pay for the upgrades without support from the community. 

“We’re going to stay open and remain a viable entity in this community, and hopefully we can fill our beds and do some renovations,” said Wynn.