After almost 70 years, Crotched Mountain Foundation, a rehabilitation center for young children to adults with developmental and behavioral disabilities in Greenfield, NH, was set to close its doors on November 1.
After months of scrambling to find suitable options for students and group home residents, it was announced that New York-based Gersh Autism will take over on the previously determined closing date.
President and CEO Ned Olney noted in a statement that the school struggled financially for years, especially during the economic downturn in 2009. With the onset of the coronavirus and subsequent lockdown, the school suspended services with Ready Set Connect, a non-profit organization for autistic children that works in conjunction with Crotched Mountain.
Student admissions were frozen and increased spending to support their direct care staff for safety reasons effectively pushed Crotched Mountain over the edge.
Olney acknowledged they took several measures to improve their financial situation such as closing the hospital, moving ATECH [assistive technology healthcare services] to the state of New Hampshire, and, last year, drastically cutting budgets and workforce,.
“Leadership has spent considerable time and effort looking for new programs, new partnerships, and other opportunities to bring more resources to support our programs. And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit us.”
Gersh Autism, an organization that has provided education and therapeutic services for kids on the autism spectrum for the past 30 years, will take over the Crotched Mountain mission. Coordinating with the state, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services, the organization will be taking over full operational and financial responsibilities for the school and its property.
“We are thrilled to be able to help keep this wonderful school open now and into the future in order to serve those who need it most, especially during this extraordinary period of uncertainty,” said Kevin Gersh, founder, CEO, and chief autism officer, in a released statement.
“At a time when many programs across the country are struggling to survive and meet the needs of families and school district administrators, Gersh Autism is pleased to play an active role in bringing innovative solutions,” he said.
In an interview, Olney said he couldn’t be happier about the transfer. He said trying to work out the details of moving students and residents to alternate programs was daunting. Crotched Mountain takes care of individuals with complex issues like seizure disorders, tracheotomies and feeding tubes, and people who needed 24-hour care. Parents were having a difficult time finding a place that could accommodate their children.
“We were up against a wall financially,” he said. “We were at a point where we might not be able to even pay salaries. We wanted to do this in as timely and safely a manner as possible,” Olney said.
He also discussed how difficult it can be to operate a school in rural New Hampshire. With 500 staff, about 380 of which are directly related to the school, 80 school children and 16 adults as residents, finding placement was a major hurdle.
He said the school district and parents were looking at other area schools to see if they could get accepted. For some families, it looked like COVID meant their kids would have to move out of state.
Crotched Mountain began as a rehabilitation center for children with polio. It evolved into one of the largest human services organizations in New Hampshire serving children and adults with special needs. It has been the largest provider of case management for approximately 900 individuals across the state.
Gersh will also be taking on much of the trained staff, a good percentage of whom are refugees living in the area. And while the organization will be taking over the existing campus and facility and maintaining its network of partnerships, Crotched Mountain will not disappear.
Olney said they are looking to consolidate, reorganize, and headquarter most likely in Manchester. Crotched Mountain will continue, just in a different capacity. As he put it, “We’re trying to do an elegant pivot.”