WATERTOWN — The father of a resident affected by the closing of Bethesda Lutheran Communities’ group homes is urging a boycott of the Watertown-based nonprofit’s thrift stores.
Dennis and Cheryl Berg’s daughter, Hannah, is cognitively and physically disabled due to a chromosomal abnormality at birth.
“This closure may not mean anything to some of you, but to my wife, Cheryl, and I, it means a lot,” Dennis Berg said. “Our daughter, Hannah, is losing her housing in one of Watertown’s Bethesda Family Adult Homes.”
Saying that its revenue streams are drying up due, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bethesda announced on Friday it would be closing its approximately 20 group homes, day programs and employment services in Watertown and Wisconsin. Its corporate office will remain in Watertown, but with staff reductions.
Bethesda College and thrift stores are not affected by these decisions, and its new residential community concept — Bethesda Cornerstone Village — will have a presence in Wisconsin.
Altogether, 190 jobs are expected to be cut and 90 group home residents must look for new housing.
“There will be 90 other individuals with disabilities also losing their housing due to Bethesda leaving Wisconsin,” Berg said. “We were given no real advance notice of this occurring other than a letter two days prior notifying us that we should attend an important Zoom meeting.
“There will also be many very good employees of Bethesda losing their jobs due to this decision. Some of them have been with Bethesda for many, many years,” he added.
Berg said the direct support professionals and life coaches from Bethesda have been special people to his family and will be sorely missed.
As a show of opposition to Bethesda’s decision, he has been calling for a boycott of the thrift stores.
“I am asking all of you who read this to please boycott all these thrift shops in the State of Wisconsin,” Berg said in a Facebook post. “Bethesda corporate wants to funnel all this money from donations from their Wisconsin thrift shops to their group homes located outside the state. There is something wrong with this picture.”
Bethesda serves people in 13 states, including Wisconsin.
Others on the Watertown Daily Times’ Facebook page echoed Berg’s sentiments.
One person said, “The ‘old’ Bethesda would never do this. They cared too much about their residents and employees.”
Another wrote, “It’s disheartening how they are just abandoning their residents and the amazing staff. My son will be heartbroken when I have to share with him that he has to move. We are now left scrambling to find good homes for our loved ones.”
Officials at St. Coletta of Wisconsin, based in Jefferson, and Opportunities Inc., Fort Atkinson, have said they will work with former Bethesda clients in an effort to provide needed services. In addition, there might be some job opportunities for laid-off staff.