UPDATE: August, 27, Curley pulls nursing home sale resolution
Freeholder John Curley called this morning to say that he has pulled his resolution to sell the Monmouth County owned nursing homes from this week’s agenda. County CFO Craig Marshall is on vacation. Curley wants Marshall available to address all of the financial concerns regarding the proposed sale. Curley expects to reintroduce the resolution in September.
The John L. Montgomery Care Center in Freehold and the Geraldine L. Thompson Care Center in Wall are owned and operated by Monmouth County’s government. Property tax payers have been subsidizing the long term care of the elderly, disabled and infirm residing in these facilities for decades. From 2007 through 2013 the cumulative deficit funded by Monmouth property tax payers was about $40 million. Despite cost cutting measures and union givebacks, the combined deficit this year is on track to exceed $13 million plus the cost of repairs and capital improvements required to keep the facilities in compliance with state and federal regulations, due to cutbacks in the amount that Medicaid pays for patient care under ObamaCare. 98% of the patients at Montgomery and Thompson are insured by Medicaid.
Freeholder John Curley has been pushing his colleagues on the all Republican Board of Chosen Freeholders to sell the nursing homes for years. Every time the issue gets traction or public attention, patients in wheelchairs and staff members of the nursing facilities show up at Freeholder meetings and plead with the Freeholders not to sell the facilities. The patients’ stories are heart wrenching. The declarations of love for their patients by the staff members are moving.
At Freeholder meetings, Curley and Freeholder Tom Arnone speak in favor of selling the facilities. Freeholders Lillian Burry, Gary Rich and Serena DiMaso say they need more information regarding what will happen to the patients, the employees and the value of the properties.
Curley is forcing the issue with a resolution to sell the facilities on the agenda of this Thursday’s Freeholder Meeting. Arnone is expected to provide the second to the resolution.
Curley and Arnone favor selling the facilities via auction with restrictions on the buyer as to what will happen to the existing patients, employees and with the caveat that the $4 million required for repairs and capital improvements be put into reserve. Arnone told the Asbury Park Press he realizes that those restrictions could reduce the amount the county gets by selling the facilities.
“I don’t care what we get in the sale or privatizing of it. The things that means the most to me are that the people are taken care of,” Arnone said according to app.
Rich told MMM this afternoon that he favors privatizing the county owned nursing homes, but that Curley’s resolution is premature. “We’re still gathering information and talking to professionals in order to evaluate all of our options,” said Rich, “It is important that the patients be taken care, but it is equally important that the taxpayers interests are looked out for. All we have right now is a realtor’s estimate that we could get between $20 and $25 million for our facilities based upon comparable sales. We’re expecting more information in September and October. There is no need to rush into a resolution to sell this week. We still have due diligence to do.”
Curley and Arnone are right. The bleeding has to stop and the status quo of the nursing homes is not sustainable. But Burry, Rich and DiMaso are also right. More information is needed.
The freeholders should expand their thinking to consider options other than selling the nursing homes or continuing to operate them as county owned facilities. It could be that the best options for the patients, employees and taxpayers is to place the patients in existing privately owned nursing homes and doing something else with the real estate or selling it for another use.
“Making sure the people are taken care of” should not be the freeholders primary concern. The patients well being should be the primary concern of their families and their caregivers. The State Department of Human Services is responsible for overseeing nursing homes. The Monmouth County Board of Freeholders primary concern should be for all the people of Monmouth County, not just the 215 patients at the county nursing homes and the employees who serve them. A $13 million deficit for the benefit of 215 patients is too much.
Curley told MMM that he wants a contract for sale of the facilities to guarantee that all the current patients will be cared for for life and that all of the current employees will be employed for life. Bad idea on both counts, especially for the employees. That proposal is tantamount to granting tenure to the employees.
Arnone’s idea of requiring the buyer to put $4 million in escrow to guarantee that repairs are made is also a non-starter. It is the job of the Department of Human Services to regulate long term care facilities. The freeholders should sell the facilities for the maximum amount possible, for the tax payers, and move on.
Nicole Brossoie, spokesperson for the Department of Human Services, told MMM via email today that there are 3,911 nursing home beds in the 34 long term care facilities in Monmouth County. The average occupancy rate is 81.15%, meaning that there are 734 empty nursing home beds located in Monmouth County. 94 of those vacancies are in the county owned facilities, 69 at Montgomery and 25 at Thompson, according to the information Curley provided MMM today. That leaves 640 empty beds in nursing homes located within the county that could accommodate the 215 residents at the county owned facilities; 110 at Thompson and 105 at Montgomery.
There are actually at least another 47 beds available, bring the total to 687 within the county for our 215 patients. One privately owned nursing home MMM spoke with today has taken 47 of the rooms they are licensed for out of service. They converted them to day rooms, but could use them for residents if there was a demand.
The freeholders, as part of their due diligence, should consider the option of closing the county owned facilities and selling the real estate for other uses. If another use would yield a higher return for the taxpayers, that is the route they should go. If selling the facilities as nursing homes, without the redundant requirements on the potential buyers for care of the residents and Utopian protections for the employees, yields the highest return for the taxpayers, that is what the freeholders should do.
Supporters of keeping Montgomery and Thompson as county owned facilities argue that rumors that the county is going to close them is what is causing the deficits, at least in part. But the numbers don’t support that argument. Thompson, with 135 beds and 105 residents is operating at 78% capacity, slightly lower than the county-wide average of 81%. Montgomery is operating at only 60% capacity with 105 residents for 174 beds. One would think that if Montgomery is as wonderful as the residents profess at Freeholder Meetings, and that the quality of care is not available anywhere else as they imply, that people would be fighting to fill those 69 empty beds. One privately owned facility that MMM talked to today said they had a waiting list for long term care beds. Another said they were at capacity. Those are the places that people are fighting to get into. Government owned facilities are not likely to get the kind of management that produces those kinds of results.
Curley has done an admirable job keeping this issue front and center in the freeholders’ minds and on the overall agenda. But his resolution this week is premature. He should pull it and/or Arnone should decline to second it.