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Project Renew — Rebuilding The Nathaniel Witherell

The nursing home's new rehabilitation center is unveiled as supporters donate $1.75 million towards the project.

Nathaniel Witherell Director Allen Brown, with Debby Lash, David Ormsby, First Selectman Peter Tesei and Karen Sadik-Kahn. Photo: Barbara Heins.
Nathaniel Witherell Director Allen Brown, with Debby Lash, David Ormsby, First Selectman Peter Tesei and Karen Sadik-Kahn. Photo: Barbara Heins.

What was "just a gleam in our eyes" is now reality at The Nathaniel Witherell, Greenwich's town-owned nursing home.

On Monday dozens of town and state officials and supporters gathered at the facility on Parsonage Road to celebrate the opening of one of the milestones of Project Renew, the rebuilding and refurbishing of the 110-year-old facility and more importantly, the donation of $1.75 million to help finance the work that's expected to be completed in September.

The Friends of Nathaniel Witherell had a ceremonial check presentation at the unveiling of its new rehabilitation center which will accommodate both short- and long-term patients.

The presentation was made by David Ormsby, chairman of the Friends of Nathaniel Witherell to First Selectman Peter Tesei. Ormsby said the $1.75 million donation in addition to another $1 million raised and given to the town last year, represents about 10 percent of the $27 million project. In total, The Friends committee expects to contribute about $9.8 million to the project.

Ormsby has been involved with the project since 2004 and recalled when the project "was just a gleam in our eyes." He said without the "unwavering support" of Tesei, as well as state officials, the project would have stalled. He thanked state Rep. Livvy Floren for "being our rock of Gibraltar in finding funding," state Sen. Scott Frantz who has served as honorary chair of The Friends fund-raising, and state Rep. Steve Walko for their support. Ormsby credited Walko, who previously served as chair of the town's Board of Estimate and Taxation, with pushing through the decision to fund the project.

Ormsby said the donations "continue a public-private partnership that has extraordinary support" from the community.

The new 4,000 square foot rehabilitation center is more than double the size of the old, cramped facility, said Allen Brown, Witherell's director. He said the facility anticipates receiving permanent state approval this month to open the 42-bed short-term care rehabilitation wing.

Previously, the Witherell had a 38-bed capacity short-term care facility, most of which were semi-private rooms. To meet patient demands, the new facility will have 40 private rooms and one semi-private room. There are separate areas for physical, occupational and speech and language therapies.

Tesei thanked Ormsby "who underscores perserverance to restore an institution that is heavilty depended upon by families for generations ... and now we'll have it for many  more great years."

Among the attendees was former Selectman Penny Monahan who along with the facility's recreation director Mary Bruce recalled the petition drive that started the move to renovate and keep The Witherell as a town-run operation.

Monahan said she and fellow town resident Linda Ziac began the petition drive in the late 1990s. "We started the Save The Witherell Committee as a town-owned facility. There was a group of us who were familiar with the inner workings of the facility ... it is the staff that makes this place," said Monahan.

"We got thousands of signatures on the petitions we circulated around town," Monahan recalled. "Eventually the board that wanted (to privatize the facility) was replaced and once David Ormsby came on board" the project began to move forward, said Monahan whose late mother was a Witherell resident for eight years. 

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