Don Capoldo is executive director of the Plant Home, an assisted living center in Bath. The nonprofit center, originally called the Old Folks Home of Bath, was built by shoe manufacturer Thomas Plant, a native of Bath, who also established an endowment to help pay for care of the elderly poor who otherwise could not afford to live in the center. The Plant Home currently has 37 units and recently announced it had received a $10 million low-interest federal loan to fund the construction of another 45 units, expected to open in mid-2015. Capoldo, 46, has worked in the elder care field for his entire career and was hired by the Plant Home in 2004. He oversees an annual budget of about $1.5 million and 26 employees.
Q: How did you get interested in elder care?
A: My grandmother was probably the biggest positive influence in my life, and I remember when she was going to go into a nursing home. As it turned out, my grandmother passed a week before she was going to go in the center, but it was her choice to go. That’s something we don’t see a lot of. One of the things I try to stress is (that) this type of move is one we either make before we need to, or there’s a precipitating event that leads to it, and that’s usually when people aren’t ready. Then a lot of people have to go into a home that’s covered by Medicaid. I think that what we do in our society for those without financial means when they get older is not really dignified. The Plant Home is a charity, and they take eligible individuals and put them in apartments, and they’ve been doing that for 100 years.
Q: How did the Plant Home get started?
A: Thomas Plant was a native of Bath, and at the height of wealth, he was the wealthiest Franco-American in the country. He created the Queen Quality Shoes label and also an estate called Lacknow – it’s now called the Castle in the Clouds – in Moultonborough, N.H.
He started the Plant Home because he was aware that if you had no money in this country, you could no longer take care of yourself. It’s a gift to the city in memory of his family. He purchased the land, built the building and endowed it. Originally, there were 22 apartments in 1917. Plant was well before his time in many ways. During the height of (the battle over) the unionization of America, he had a doctor and a nurse in his factory and supplied employees and their families with medical care and provided lunches for his workers, and on weekends would have dances. He didn’t know how to invest, though. He invested in Russian (World War I) war bonds and lost all his money before he died.
Q: How is the Plant Home doing financially?
A: We just went through one of the top two or three worst downturns in the economic history of our country, and because of our unique niche, where we say, “If you run out of money, we’ll keep you,” we were where we were able to operate at the level we had planned. It’s been a blessing for us. People like the Plant Home because the units are all individual apartments, and people don’t want to have a new roommate at that stage of their life. We were strong throughout this, and we’re hoping the expansion will secure the viability for those homes, as well.
Q: Were does Plant’s original endowment of about $400,000 stand?
A: We’re a charity, and we’re an assisted living home, and we’re a low-income housing apartment complex, and all those together caused our endowment to dwindle. This expansion project will capitalize on our economies of scale, and we will be able to build a home that would be private pay, and the profits generated from that are likely to be more than what we are pulling from the endowment. We would be able to stop the endowment draw. The federal loan really saved us because that will cover the construction expenses for 45 new apartments. The endowment is down to just over $2 million. When I came on board, everybody recognized this wasn’t going to be viable for the long term and the board was encouraged to find a professional administrator and that’s how I came on board. It was evident we needed the expansion to sustain it in perpetuity. We’ve been working on this project going on six years. It will preserve the endowment and we’ll be able, when we’re full, to subsidize at the same level, or possibly even subsidize more and put some back in the endowment to be able to serve more low-income individuals.
Q: That new project must be consuming a lot of time and attention?
A: We’re right now at the end of everything. It’s just about ready to happen and we’re working with architects, lenders, marketing people and the city on approvals. It’s a lot of work and it’s exciting but the reward for me will come when it’s complete. The timing is good, the economy has turned around and houses are selling again and people are starting to look into assisted living. So it’s the right time for this.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: