Opponents want referendum on sale of York County-owned nursing home

Robert L. Brenner and Robin Frane are residents of York County-owned Pleasant Acres Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, and the two friends share the same sentiment.

"If it wasn't for Pleasant Acres, I don't know where I'd be," the 57-year-old Frane said, echoing Brenner, 73.

Both on Medicaid, they have been living there for about eight years, and Brenner admits he couldn't afford his medications without the home providing them. When asked if she would be able to afford a private home, Frane wasn't sure.

"That's why I hope they don't sell Pleasant Acres," she said.

The nursing facility's future is in limbo, as the York County commissioners decide whether to sell the home to a private owner-operator.

But for at least some of those who have had experience with the county home, the decision is clear: "We don't want the place sold," Brenner said. "We want it as it is."

Town meeting: More than 150 York County residents filed into the Central York High School auditorium Wednesday, March 7, for the second of three town meetings to address the potential sale of the nursing home.

The commissioners, who hired Susquehanna Group Advisors to find private owner-operators interested in purchasing Pleasant Acres, repeated prior statements, saying the decision to sell is not final and they are merely exploring options.

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Jay Wenger, managing director of SGA, updated the community on current bids — 18 businesses have expressed interest in evaluating Pleasant Acres, and they have until Thursday, March 15 to submit their proposals, which will be public. Five have done site visits of Pleasant Acres, and another was slated to visit Thursday.

After a huge outcry from more than 100 people who packed the county 911 center at the first town meeting Feb. 13, the community continues to be vocal in its disapproval of  selling the home.

More:Residents to commissioners: Don't sell Pleasant Acres

Taxpayers spent $75 million subsidizing the facility over 10 years — with $10 million going toward capital improvements — and the county increased property taxes by 12 percent last year.

Yorkers will continue to pay $7.5 million toward the facility per year, with another $10 million in capital improvements during the next three years, according to county projections.

Despite these costs, some county residents said saving money on a nursing home is different than saving money on other county services — and they are willing to pay because it's a matter of a human life.

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets the value of one human life at $9.1 million ... and the national Food and Drug Administration sets the value of one human life at $7.9 million," said York Township resident Beverly Strayer during public comment at the March 7 meeting.

Beverly Strayer, of York Township, speaks as more than 150 York County residents gather for a town hall meeting regarding the possible sale of county-owned Pleasant Acres Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, March 7, 2018.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

"By selling Pleasant Acres, are we trying to save money at the expense of our valued senior citizens?" she asked.

Privatization: Though the commissioners have stated their commitment to ensuring that any new owner would maintain the same level of quality care, some residents are convinced that care will suffer.

Not one resident who spoke at the 1½-hour meeting Wednesday supported privatization. All who had experience with both private and county-owned homes cited the night-and-day differences in quality between the two.

Tracey Strine, of Manchester Township, said of all the county homes she had researched that had been privatized, none of them had created a change for the better. She said she had wanted to find evidence of that, but, "I have found no facts."

Occupational Therapist Theta Grimaud speaks as more than 150 York County residents attend a town hall meeting regarding the possible sale of county-owned Pleasant Acres Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, March 7, 2018.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

Theta Grimaud, an occupational therapist at Pleasant Acres, said there is no comparison to the years of experience found with county care, because staff in private facilities come and go often.

"Our department has approximately 160 years between (occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy) ... You don't get that in a for-profit," she said.

Cost of care in private homes  also is a concern, especially for residents on Medicaid.

Jane Stokes, a volunteer for the Pleasant Acres country store, said her mother-in-law, who lived in Pleasant Acres' independent housing, Elm Spring, had to pay $255 a day to move to the nursing home until her money ran out and she was put on Medicaid.

Her husband, Don Stokes, said other nursing homes, when residents ran out of money, they would send them to Pleasant Acres.

"You can have a couple hundred dollars, and in no time it's gone," Jane Stokes said of the expense of care. "That's what the scary part is." 

She said residents need to know they have a place to go when their money runs out.

Commissioners: County solicitor Glenn Smith responded to a question he said he often gets from residents — what has the county done for the nursing home?

Smith said he created a task force in 2016 to increase efficiencies, lower costs, maintain quality care and strengthen its perception in the community.

The fall of that year, the home was assessed by the state Department of Health with critical deficiencies, and the county responded by introducing new management and hiring consultant Complete Healthcare Resources, which helped the home pass its next assessment with zero deficiencies — a feat it had not accomplished in about two years.

The commissioners made the decision at their March 7 meeting to end the county's agreement with Complete Healthcare Resources on Sept. 30, according to meeting minutes.

The consultant, which took over operations of Lebanon's former county-owned nursing home, The York Dispatch reported, had been forced out of its agreement by one of its financial backers, and Wenger had said he would not advise the county to consider it as a potential buyer for Pleasant Acres.

Pleasant Acres residents Robert Brenner, 73, left, and Robin Frane, 57, wait in the front row as the second of three public town hall meetings begins at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, March 7, 2018. More than 150 York County residents would attend the meeting which would discuss the possible sale of county-owned Pleasant Acres Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. Dawn J. Sagert photo

This month, Smith said, Pleasant Acres president Tammy Hetrick presented the board with a plan that would reduce the home's deficit — which had been projected to be between $11 million and $12 million — by $3.4 million, leaving it at the current number of about $7 million.

"You need to know the facts," Smith said. "You cannot make decisions and make opinions without the facts."

Following the initial town meeting, President Commissioner Susan Byrnes said the board also is looking into options for the county to keep Pleasant Acres, including a veterans' wing to increase income from the home.

"To me, every possibility we have to look at," said Commissioner Doug Hoke after the second town meeting. "We have to take every opportunity to look at whatever we can to save the nursing home."

Some residents at the March 7 meeting felt certain that commissioners had already made up their minds on the decision to sell.

"I know I haven't," Hoke said. "This is probably one of the toughest situations I'll be involved in as a county commissioner. 

Hoke said he has been a supporter of the home in his more than 10 years as a commissioner, and "my heart says keep the nursing home, and my financial background — which I have had 25 years in the finance community — says we have to look at our options because of the cost."

Jay Wenger, left, managing director of Susquehanna Group Advisors, gives an update as more than 150 York County residents attend a town hall meeting regarding the possible sale of county-owned Pleasant Acres Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, at Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, March 7, 2018.  Dawn J. Sagert photo

On the ballot: A few residents strongly encouraged the commissioners to put the decision up for a vote.

"If we're paying for it, why do three elected officials get to make the decision?" said retired Pleasant Acres employee Stephanie Freed.

She said not all concerned residents came to the meeting, but they will vote.

Though Hoke said there are rules and regulations in the county code on what can be put on as a referendum, he plans to personally ask and find out for residents.

The third and final public meeting to discuss the potential Pleasant Acres sale will be held Tuesday, March 27, at Central York High School, 601 Mundis Mill Road, in Springettsbury Township.