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Deficits add up

Published January 02. 2010 09:00AM

Carbon County's nursing home in Weatherly may soon be up for sale.

During the weekly meeting of the county commissioners' on Thursday, the board discussed the future of the financially bleeding Weatherwood. The county-owned facility is currently operating with an anticipated $3 million deficit.

Commissioner Charles Getz, who, in the past, has voiced his opposition of ever considering to sell Weatherwood, said that after looking at the current and future finances at the nursing home, as well as the resident count, he is "now in favor of selling Weatherwood."

"I can't see that turning around up there," Getz said of the growing deficit. "We're not going to come even close to breaking even. It's not going to happen. I'm in favor of selling, as much as I hate to see that done because it's a well run facility."

He added that he hopes the county is able to have some input on how the facility is operated after the sale.

Commissioners Wayne Nothstein and William O'Gurek, chairman, echoed Getz's thoughts.

"We are in a situation where we cannot afford to keep it going," Nothstein said. "I think it's evident that's that what will occur (selling the nursing home). Our priority will be the residents and the employees at Weatherwood. We will do whatever we can to protect those employees and residents."

O'Gurek said that the $3 million deficit at Weatherwood, translates into an $8,219 a day loss for the county.

"That's an alarming figure that supports what ure that supports what Charles (Getz) and Wayne (Nothstein) are saying," he said, adding that there may be action taken on this matter in the next few months.

In 2009, the Carbon County Commissioners approved seven loans from the general fund that totaled nearly $3 million. This money went to help offset rising costs at the 200-bed facility.

In early November, Commissioners O'Gurek and Nothstein said the option to sell has not been ruled out but no decision had been made.

At that time, O'Gurek reported that Weatherwood had lost $7.7 million over the last seven years, not including 2009.

On Nov. 19, the commissioners listened to a presentation by Jay Wenger, managing director of the Susquehanna Group Advisors, Inc. of Harrisburg, the company hired by the county to complete an assessment of the operations at Weatherwood. Wenger provided the county with three options: continue to operate the facility as a county-owned asset; outsource the management function; or exit the health care business.

The first two options would take anywhere between one year to 24 months before Weatherwood would possibly break even and operate in the black, Wenger reported.

O'Gurek pointed out that the first options would require a tax increase to allow the county to continue to operate the facility until it is again self-sustainable. He said that he wouldn't vote for a tax increase.

In other business, the board voted 2-1 to approve a project modification request for Carbon County's Criminal Justice Advisory Board Subgrant. The modification requests will cover the 2010 annual maintenance fee for the Live Scan Booking Station and Commonwealth Photo Imaging Network. O'Gurek cast the sole "no" vote.

The Live Scan system has been the topic of controversy between O'Gurek and his colleagues since the county voted to accept the piece of equipment free of charge from the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association in 2008.

O'Gurek, who is against the project, asked many questions in regards to fees associated with the equipment.

Members of Carbon County's court system explained the benefits of the equipment, which would allow officers to have updated access to criminal information. The system is designed to take fingerprints and photos of defendants for court use.

They added that there would be a fee charged every time the system is utilized. This would help offset the costs of the equipment, and officials believe would cover both the equipment and personnel costs.

According to Live Scan operating estimates, the total expenditures for one year is $20,059.

Other actions that Carbon Commissioners voted on include:

• Approve the submission of an application to Symetra Life Insurance Company, Minneapolis, Minn., for excess loss insurance coverage for eligible expenses incurred from Jan. 1, 2009, through Dec. 31, 2009, and eligible expenses paid from Jan. 1, 2010 through Dec. 31, 2010. The county's annual specific premium for this insurance is $372,081.

• Approve a subgrant under the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The amount awarded totals $10,000 and will help cover the Community Service Clerk program, which helps the community, juveniles that have gone through the court system, and victims of juvenile crimes.

• Authorize a letter of agreement with The Frederick Group of Allentown for an appraisal summary report of the market value of two separate rail crossing easements at Packerton Yards. The estimate, which will include the land under Norfolk Southern and Reading and Northern's railroad tracks on the property, will help the county when negotiating the purchase of that land.

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