At Wednesday's work session in Pottsville, Schuylkill County Commissioners discussed engaging Service Access and Management Inc. (SAM), to administer the operation of Rest Haven Home and Hospital, a county owned institution located in Schuylkill Haven.

Action will be taken at next Wednesday's public meeting. The proposed contract is for a three-year period running from July 1 through June 30, 2015.

The current administration of the home and hospital and eight members of the business office would be transferred from the county payroll to SAM's. The remainder of the staff, union and non-union members, would continue to be employed by the county. Commissioner Frank Staudenmeier referred to it as a "seamless transition as the county will still be in charge of operating the home and hospital."

Mark Scarbinsky, county fiscal administrator, reported SAM was contracted earlier this year to perform an assessment of the administrative operations at the facility and based upon their evaluation the commissioners felt it financially prudent to move forward with a management contract to provide the day-to-day administration functions at Rest Haven.

"Sustainability of the Rest Haven Nursing Home is a priority of this board," Commissioner George Halcovage said, "but continued trend in the reduction of Medicare and Medicaid funding complicates the issues moving further, therefore, it is anticipated that these contract services will afford more efficiencies and marketing capabilities for the nursing home."

Halcovage added that marketing was one of the major issues in the commissioners's decision. The hospital is currently licensed 142 skilled-bed facility and currently 21 beds are vacant. Staudenmeir added that at one time there was a waiting list for people to be admitted into the home.

Paul Straka, county budget director, who worked in the business office at Rest Haven Home before moving to the courthouse, reported Rest Haven's budget for 2012 is $12 million. The county will pay SAM $730,000 per year to manage the facility. There are 127 employees, including 98 full-time and 29 part-time. The county expects a savings in the operation.

Rest Haven Home originally was a place that housed the mentally ill and later was converted into a home and hospital for the elderly, long before nursing homes sprang up in the area. It now competes with these institutions and is ranked on par in providing of services, according to Commissioner Gary J. Hess, a new member of the board, who had visited the facility to gain knowledge about its operation.

SAM has partnered with the county since 2004 to offer human services to the region. The county is expected to enter into a contract next week and SAM will take over administration and management of the home on July 1. SAM is currently constructing a $2.3 million facility in Pottsville which will serve as its headquarters for human services to county residents. It currently provides human service in the county including Mental Health Blended Case Management, Mental Health Administrative Case Management, Early Intervention Service Coordination, Intellectual Development Disability Support Coordination, Mental Health Forensic Case Management and Case Management Intake Coordination Services.

SAM started in Berks County in 1987 as a department of county government and over the course of 10 years the agency grew to provide fiscal services to many counties Mental Health agencies.