Backers of innovative Orlando program shocked by closing

Grandma's House mixed elderly with children in nursing home


ORLANDO, Fla. – For 14 years, an Orlando nursing home proudly trumpeted an innovative program that allowed elderly residents to assist in the care of severely disabled children kept in a wing called Grandma's House.

The arrangement, they claimed, was beneficial for both parties.

But in August, the Orlando Health and Rehabilitation Center told Grandma's House supporters and residents' families that the program was being shuttered.

"I got a text message saying Grandma's House closed and, I'm like. for what? Renovations? Closed for what?" said Rosemarie Seaman, executive director of a foundation that supported Grandma's House. She said she was told,  "'No, it's closed.' And … they mention this lawsuit."

While at first claiming weeks ago he would comment, nursing home administrator Mark Niemeyer now refuses to tell Local 6 why his home is closing Grandma's House, evicting the approximately 40 children it has housed.

But the lawsuit Seaman and others say the home cited was filed against the state Agency for Health Care Administration by the U.S. Justice Department. It alleges Florida has illegally forced families to put their severely disabled children in nursing homes, even though they have a right to have the state provide the same services in their homes.

The state denies any wrongdoing.

Seaman said she does not understand why a lawsuit that does not name Grandma's House as a defendant or in any other way would force the facility to close the program.

And, she added, the community is losing an exceptional asset, one she helped raise money and support for through her role with the Kathy Stilwell Foundation.

"I think when people saw it and walked the halls and saw a grandma feed the baby in the infants room or one working with homework with another, you saw the connection," Seaman said. "It brought the community together."

She said homebuilders donated time and material for projects and interior designers redecorated. Supporters helped create a $400,000 playground that was not only handicapped accessible, but also easily allowed for participation by handicapped children.

And the Stilwell Foundation spent two years raising $55,000 to purchase a 14-passenger, handicapped-equipped bus used to take the children on field trips.

Now that bus sits dormant, a good deed undone.

"We're trying to find a home for it now," Seaman said, seeking "somebody that can use it."