Did Grace Muriel House care home need to close?

Grace Muriel House in St Albans is closing in June.

Grace Muriel House in St Albans is closing in June. - Credit: Abbeyfield St Albans Society

The shock closure of a much-loved St Albans care home after 60 years has left staff and residents devastated, but could anything have been done differently?

Grace Muriel House in Tavistock Avenue, which provides both long stay and respite care, is set to permanently close from the end of June.

The Abbeyfield St Albans Society, which runs the CQC Outstanding care home, announced in March that it would have to shut due to dwindling funds following vacancies brought about by the pandemic.

The news left the 22 vulnerable residents, their families and 48 staff reeling as there had been no previous warning of any financial difficulties, and they had just a few weeks to find suitable alternative accommodation.

Gillian La Haye's father George Andrews was involved in setting up the society in 1960.  Her sister Evelyn Andrews was the first manager of Grace Muriel House, and her mother was nursed there until her death in 2007.

She believes more could have been done to avoid closure: "I am greatly saddened by the closing of Grace Muriel House. It has always been a very happy place, a true ‘hearth and home’ to the residents, where the care of the frail elderly was second to none.

"I am far from alone in my shock, and indeed anger, that the St Albans community has lost a wonderful asset without any prior warning whatsoever, and with no reference to those people who would have stepped forward as they always have in the past, to fund the Abbeyfield St Albans Society again, following the ravages of the pandemic.

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"Not even the wonderful staff at the home, who have now all lost their jobs – for them it was truly a vocation rather than a ‘job’ – had any idea there was any impending trouble.

"Had the trustees informed the current residents and their families, families of past residents who have always been so supportive over the years, the wider local community, present and past members of the Abbeyfield St Albans Society, past friends of Grace Muriel House, that funds were needed, I have absolutely no doubt that support would have been forthcoming and this disastrous closure and disruption to the lives of these frail and disabled people could have been prevented.

"But no-one was informed before the final decision to close had been made.

"I am very concerned about the future of the Abbeyfield St Albans Society, which has unused assets in the town designed to shore things up should the worst happen. What will become of that?

"And what will become of the property of Grace Muriel House, now about to be formally shuttered up at great ongoing expense to the society, dwindling its already stretched resources – for what? An empty building. And what of the future of the Society and this now historic facility for the elderly and vulnerable of the community?"

Society chairman George Ashworth responded to her concerns, explaining that the trustees wanted to avoid a "hard stop" to the business, and use their financial resources to ensure an orderly transition.

"In September 2020, having suffered significantly following the deaths of seven residents and one trustee, as well as having a significant proportion of the staff impacted directly by Covid, we believed that we had overcome the worst of the pandemic and would be able to move forward.

"However ongoing positive Covid test results meant we were unable to bring new residents into Grace Muriel House and every time a positive result appeared the business was thrown back into a 28-day lockdown.

"This continued into spring and the financial impact has been devastating. We have therefore waited 15 months and we have witnessed the business deteriorate month after month for the reasons given above. The timing of our decision was driven by the level of cash that we had. The timing was so that the Society would be able to fulfil all legal and moral obligations to staff and other stakeholders."

He said that the trustees reached out to 39 care establishments within the St Albans area to source vacancies for staff and residents, with new homes found for all residents and the majority of staff.

He added that the pandemic had exposed the home as no longer fit for residential care purposes in a post-Covid world due to the fact that 15 out of 36 bedrooms did not have en suite bathrooms.

Finally, George confirmed that the society's life as a charitable organisation was not coming to an end, with trustees exploring potential future options.