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Option to sell county nursing home hasn't been ruled out

Published November 13. 2009 05:00PM

To sell or not to sell, that is the question on Carbon County officials minds as they spoke out recently on whether or not the county should be in the nursing home business.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board discussed the financially unstable Weatherwood, the county nursing home. Over the last few months, officials loaned nearly $2.5 million to Weatherwood to help offset rising costs.

Commissioner Charles Getz voiced his opinion on rumors that have been floating around that the board was planning to sell the 200-bed facility in Weatherly.

He said they are only rumors and he does not want to sell the home, but his colleagues, Commissioners William O'Gurek and Wayne Nothstein, said the option to sell has not been ruled out.

Both O'Gurek and Nothstein said they hope it does not come down to selling the facility, but the county cannot continue to support it financially. Over the last seven years, not including 2009, Weatherwood has lost $7.7 million, O'Gurek reported.

O'Gurek said the board must wait on a feasibility study that is being completed by Susquehanna Group Advisors, Inc. of Harrisburg, before any decision could be reached. The study, which cost the county $17,750, will look at the company's business model, financial information, collective bargaining agreement, compensation and benefits of employees, personnel policies, admissions agreements, census data, the case mix index, cost reports, surveys from the Departments of Health and Welfare, the nursing staff schedules, dietary options, laundry and housekeeping operations, and any other pertinent information.

"I'm not as eager to say we won't sell Weatherwood," O'Gurek said. "But, when this report comes in, this board will have to take a long look at what we want to do."

He noted that if the trend of rising costs and less revenue coming in continues, it could mean the county would have to either deplete its general fund surplus to help support the home or raise county taxes by around 2 mills to offset the $3 million annual deficit.

"We are concerned about the future of the nursing home," O'Gurek said. "But in fairness to the taxpayers we need to look at the study and really weigh our options. Do we really want to raise taxes by one or two mills to offset the cost?"

Nothstein said he doesn't want to sell, but ultimately, it will come down to a business decision, what is best for the county and its taxpayers.

Getz said he is against the option and is embarrassed by the situation.

He cited that Carbon is mandated to operate a prison, which costs the county $4 million annually, but doesn't have to operate a nursing home.

"Isn't it a sad state," Getz said. "We must take care of our prisoners, but not our seniors who worked their whole lives and paid taxes. It's a shame."

He asked if there was more the county could do to market the facility and raise the bed count so more revenue is generated. That answer will come with the feasibility study.

Currently, 152 of the 200 beds at Weatherwood are filled.

"We got to see what we're doing wrong," Getz said. "There has to be ways to save money."

O'Gurek said one issue that could have resulted in the shrinking number of residents is the county's Area Agency on Aging.

"We're competing against ourselves," he said, noting that the county is trying to get residents into Weatherwood, but the county agency is also promoting staying at home.

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