Is this the right time to consider selling Cumberland County’s nursing home?
The county commissioners insisted during a public meeting Monday night that the answer to that question is “yes” if the Claremont Nursing & Rehabilitation Center is to remain viable and not become a financial albatross for the taxpayers.
“We would be subsidizing a broken business model,” Commission Chairman Gary Eichelberger said of the option keeping Claremont in county hands. “We would be operating in a perpetual bail-out mode.”
Yet a chorus of commenters urged them to hold off, at least until the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed several Claremont residents, has passed.
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Things are tough,” former Commissioner Rick Rovegno said. “Put this on hold and give us time to thoughtfully and unemotionally consider things.”
Monday’s session was the first of two public meetings commissioners have scheduled on Claremont’s future.
That future will be brighter if the facility is shifted to private ownership, Eichelberger insisted. He said commissioners haven’t made a final commitment to sell but are accepting proposals from possible private buyers until Nov. 30. A decision on whether to sell will likely be made early next year, he said.
The county has hired Susquehanna Group Advisors to help vet prospective buyers. Jay Wenger from that firm said an evaluation committee that will include Claremont and county employees will assist in that process.
The decision to seek buyers follows years of discussions and years of watching Claremont’s finances falter, Eichelberger said. Dana Best, the county finance director, said the home is projected to post a $3.3 million operating deficit for 2020.
Wenger said only 15 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties still operate their own nursing homes. Several area counties, including York and Dauphin, sold their nursing homes years ago.
“Our choices are sell or subsidize,” Eichelberger said.
Selling would put the home in the hands of a private provider, most likely the owner of multiple nursing homes, with the resources and skills to keep Claremont not only functioning but improving, he said. The primary concerns will be for the residents, including those whose nursing care is funded only by Medicaid, and the employees, he said.
About 75 percent of Claremont’s current residents are on Medicaid. Commissioner Vince DiFillppo vowed that none of them would be displaced if the home is sold, and that Claremont would continue to accept such residents under a new owner.
Wenger said any buyer would have to pledge to continue serving and admitting Medicaid-only residents for at least 15 years after a sale.
Commissioner Jean Foschi said her key criteria will be “how do we deliver excellent healthcare to the residents of Claremont?”
“To save the nursing home, we as a county have to get out of the nursing home business,” Eichlberger said. “We need Claremont to succeed…We are going to sell it to a buyer who is the right fit.”
“It sounds like a decision is already made,” said Rovegno, who is urging that county residents should be allowed to decide whether subsidizing Claremont should remain on the table. “This is a huge decision,” Rovegno said. Claremont “has been a resource for 200 years. This decision will affect it for what I believe will be the next 200 years.”
Those seconding the call for delaying the sale evaluation included Glenda Farner Strasbaugh, the county’s former register of wills. “It’s a bad time for the residents, especially,” she said. “We just need to pause this for a while and step back.”
Lemoyne Borough Council President Gale Gallo read a letter from her board also urging a delay.
Another speaker, Rick Copeland, said he couldn’t find a record of the latest sale discussions in the minutes from county meetings. Copeland didn’t criticize the sale investigation but did ask the commissioners a question: “How would you decide this if it was your mother or father who was a resident of Claremont right now?”
Foschi said she is in the process of applying to have her mother admitted to Claremont. “The application is on my dining room table,” she said. “I most certainly understand the importance of this.”
Commissioners have scheduled a second town hall meeting on the issue for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 1. It will be accessible at the courthouse and via Zoom.