EDITORIAL: County right to explore nursing home options

The York Dispatch

Emotions ran high when York County residents had their first chance to weigh in on a potential sale of the county-owned nursing home at the Pleasant Acres government complex.

It’s understandable.

The home’s residents are some of society’s most vulnerable — people like our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, and someday, perhaps not too far off, ourselves.

Of course we want to be sure seniors are safe and well cared for in the twilight of their lives.

Pleasant Acres Nursing Home. (Dawn J. Sagert - The York Dispatch)

But let’s take a breath and consider what’s under discussion and why.

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Just last year the York County Commissioners passed a 12 percent property tax increase for 2017, in part because of an annual $7.5 million structural deficit at the nursing home, according to Commissioner Chris Reilly.

In fact, county officials say, taxpayers have subsidized the Springettsbury Township facility to the tune of $75 million in just the past 10 years.

The operating deficit is expected to grow in excess of $11 million this year, and the home will need $10 million in capital improvements in the next three years.

Roughly 400 people live there.

Selling the nursing home has been discussed for many years because of those high costs, but last month the commissioners finally took action.

They unanimously voted to contract with Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Group Advisors "to explore the possibility of finding a reputable, quality skilled-care operator to acquire" the nursing home.

The consultant's representative has said any contract would stipulate that current residents could stay as long as they want, and the buyer would continue to prioritize local senior citizens with a high Medicaid population.

He added that for-profit companies that buy county-owned nursing homes typically offer employment to almost everyone that is on staff when the purchase is made.

The entire process could take nine months, but county officials have stressed that no final decision has been made to sell the home.

At the first of three meetings to hear public comment about the idea, more than 100 people showed up Tuesday, Feb. 13, and all who spoke were against a sale.

York County residents packed the space at the 911 center for the first public hearing on the potential sale of Pleasant Acres Nursing & Rehabilitation Facility on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Lindsay VanAsdalan photo

One, Pleasant Acres employee Brenda Disla, said she used to work in a private nursing home, and she felt it was all about making a profit.

"It's not the same. It's not at all," she said of the difference between county-owned and private facilities. "It's all about the Benjamins."

We appreciate the sentiment.

Realistically, though, money must be a consideration, especially because these are the taxpayers’ “Benjamins” we’re talking about.

Also, profit isn’t the issue at the moment — the massive annual loss is what’s driving the current discussion. If the county-nursing home was simply breaking even each year, a sale probably wouldn’t be on the table.

Unfortunately, the county hasn’t been able to do that, and the commissioners are right to consider other options.

Who knows? Perhaps county officials can find a buyer able to provide as good or better care for our seniors, and at a reasonable cost.

Commissioner Doug Hoke, who has long advocated maintaining county ownership of the nursing home, said the decision to consider a sale is probably the toughest he's faced in more than 10 years in office.

"My heart says one thing, but my financial background tells me to explore all possibilities," he said. "I'm glad we're doing our due diligence."

And so are we.