Eager, excited and anxious.
That's what the owners of Guardian Elder Care of Brockway, the new owners of Weatherwood, the former Carbon County Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Weatherly, felt as the sale of the 200-bed facility unfolded Wednesday.
Throughout the day yesterday, officials from both Carbon County and Guardian Elder Care signed the necessary documents to close on the $11 million sale and transfer the ownership of the county-owned nursing home. The county has been in negotiations with Guardian since March 25, when the board of commissioners announced that Guardian was the most qualified bidder.
Eddy Inzana, president and CEO of Guardian, said during a phone interview that, "The primary thought is we're eager and we're excited. We've been in the facility several times and gotten through the 'getting to know you' phase. We're eager to put the sale to rest and transition Guardian into Weatherwood and the community; as well as bring Weatherwood into the Guardian family."
He noted that the company has been very pleased with how the sale has been handled.
"The period that we've gone through over the last few months has gone smoothly," he said. "We've gotten to know the people and as always, in nine out of 10 times, when we buy a facility, the people there are anxious about what's going to happen. We saw here that the people truly care. The employees are caring and compassionate. We've had a great relationship with the county, the commissioners, and Randy Smith. I appreciated that."
Ray Calhoun, chairman of the board at Guardian, echoed Inzana's thoughts, stating that change is scary for everyone, but they are confident that they will be successful at stabilizing the nursing home and making it into the gem of the county that it used to be.
"This facility is a little different (than most nursing homes Guardian acquires) in that most facilities have been severely distressed in care and other operations, and has demoralized staff that has poor leadership," Calhoun said. "Weatherwood's physical plant is in excellent shape, and the care to the residents is high quality. They had a few blips with minor corrections needed, but overall the supervision and leadership has certainly been better than normal. The staff seems eager to get a leadership team and new owner to help stabilize the facility so they can look forward to many decades of successful ownership under Guardian and the delivery of the highest and best quality of care to residents.
"Given what we have seen thus far with dealing with the staff there, we're optimistic that this will be a quick and smooth transition," he added.
On the other side of the table, the Carbon County commissioners felt that Wednesday was "a sad day" and "bittersweet."
During a special meeting, held at 9 a.m. Wednesday, the board sat down with Jocelyn O'Brien, an associate with Ballard Spahr LLP of Philadelphia, the county's special counsel for the sale, as well as county prothonotary Joann Behrens and Harold Pudliner, the Weatherly borough manager, to sign and notarize all necessary documents.
O'Brien explained that after all documents were signed by both organizations, the paperwork was sent to the title company yesterday afternoon, to verify that everything was complete.
After that, the company authorized the release of the money for the sale.
Following the signing of documents, Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, stated that "Today is bittersweet, in that we believe the county did the right thing when the three of us decided to sell the home in the best interest of the county and, like I said in the past, preserving Weatherwood like the true community asset in terms of a place where people can spend their elderly years as needed, and as a place to employ people to keep people working was our main objective.
"We believe we've turned the facility over to a quality company and we have a lot of faith in Guardian. We believe they are good people and have a caring attitude that is needed to keep Weatherwood the fine facility that it is. We also want to thank the county employees at Weatherwood, who for years, have worked dedicatedly and with commitment to making it the great facility that it is. We certainly appreciated their service to the county. Everyone said that Weatherwood is a great place and we think that is a tribute to the employees."
O'Gurek also recognized AFSCME and OPEIU, the two unions at Weatherwood for the good working relationship; Marcus & Millichap, the county's broker during the sale; Ballard Spahr LLP; Roger Susanin of Susanin, Widman & Brennan, P.C., the legal firm for personnel matters; county solicitor Michael Ozalas; Carbon Engineering; the borough of Weatherly and Pudliner; the Carbon Housing Authority; Guardian Elder Care; county treasurer Ron Sheehan and his staff; county controller Robert Crampsie and his staff; Jeff Weiss and the Susquehanna Advisors for their analysis and other services; Behrens; the human resources department; county administrator Randall Smith; and everyone in the commissioners' office. All parties were involved in some way in the sale.
The board also thanked the residents and their families for their patience during the transition.
Commissioners Charles Getz and Wayne Nothstein also weighed in on the sale.
Nothstein said Wednesday was a very sad day.
"I feel bad that this day has come after being in the nursing home business for I don't know how long," he said. "I want to thank the employees for many, many years of service. I will miss having those people as employees and I wish them the very best."
He added that he thinks the residents are in good hands under Guardian.
"I feel those people will be taken care of. The service will not change, just the name of the operator will be the only change as far as the residents are concerned."
Getz, who had originally been adamant against selling Weatherwood until he saw the dismal financial figures for the future, he felt a sadness by this.
"It's a sad day in Carbon County," he said. "I never thought I would sit here and see Carbon County sell our home up there but we had no choice with the way things were going. I'm sure we made the right choice (selling the nursing home to Guardian). I want to thank the employees from the bottom of my heart. They made the place what it is today."
Getz also remembered the previous commissioners who built Weatherwood decades ago.
"I want to thank the former commissioners for having the foresight to build a building like this up there in Weatherly," he said. "We all know all the compliments the county has received and it is thanks to the people who thought to build the facility."
But what about the Weatherwood employees?
O'Gurek said the county believes Guardian has offered employment to all but two full-time and one part-time employees. But, not all have accepted the new positions under the new owner, he noted.
O'Gurek added that the two full-time employees who were not offered jobs with Guardian will be hired today by the county to fill vacant positions in county departments.