The crisis at Portage Manor; why former administrator resigned

Published: May. 10, 2022 at 4:54 PM EDT|Updated: May. 10, 2022 at 8:04 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - Portage Manor has something today that it hasn’t had since last September.

A licensed administrator.

Portage Manor is home to more than 100 indigent residents with mental or physical disabilities. At least for now.

“So, the worst fear is, it gets shut down. I do think that that would be a massive step by the state because you’d have to re-house, I think we have approximately 115 people currently,” St. Joseph County Attorney Michael Misch told 16 News Now.

Ever since Robin Challinor resigned as Portage Manor administrator in September of 2021, efforts to find another licensed individual to run the place have gone nowhere.

“So, a search began. Portage Manor interviewed 14 individuals. One of which was licensed, the other 13 were not. An offer was made to the licensed individual, she had declined the offer ultimately,” Misch explained.

On Tuesday, the county hired Deb Lambert, who is licensed and now runs a similar facility in Fort Wayne. She has agreed to help out Portage in a pinch, although her contract runs merely from May 10, 2022 to July 1.

“We hope that we can find a new administrator within those two months, if not, we would be requesting Miss Lambert to stay a little bit longer to help us bridge that gap,” Misch said. “Don’t know if that’s a possibility but at this point, we’re hopeful that, Miss Lambert does have a line on somebody who is from South Bend, who will be licensed shortly. They’re in the last phase of the test taking requirements.”

The state’s options include shutting down Portage Manor, fining Portage Manor, or increasing state oversight of Portage Manor.

Someone had already been hired as the new Portage Manor administrator in the hopes they could be trained and licensed while on the job, only to find that the licensing process takes 800-hours.

“So, our hope with taking this step is the state will give us some grace here. Give us some more time to get this figured out now that we do have a licensed individual in place,” Misch continued.

In the meantime, the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners hired bond counsel to search for a way to finance $33 million dollar plans to build a new Portage Manor on the grounds of the old facility.

The company will determine whether a new facility would bring in enough revenue to pay off the bonds on its own.

“No special assessment, no income tax. The goal here is that the Medicaid dollars, the R-Cap dollars that would be funding Portage Manor, would be more than enough to run the facility and service the debt,” Misch finished.

Meantime, Challinor is challenging some claims made by Misch.

“Under the prior administration, we only had one licensed individual, so when that individual up and quit, we were left without a licensed administrator,” said Misch.

Challinor said she did not leave abruptly, and said she was even willing to work with the new board.

Challinor served as the Portage Manor Administrator for five years, but worked at the facility since 2001.

She said she resigned because it was a “hostile work environment.”

That is when she said she put in her two-week notice.

Some commented on social media saying that Challinor, “led with compassion” and “worked tirelessly to develop and facilitate a plan to help navigate a difficult situation that was in the best interest of the mission of Portage Manor and its residents.”

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