Some fear Frederick County nursing home sale could hurt seniors -- Gazette.Net



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The potential transfer of a county-owned nursing home and assisted-living facility into private hands could harm the low-income, elderly residents who live there now or in the future, according to members of the Frederick County Commission on Aging.

In particular, members of the commission were referring to the 60 beds in the 75-room Montevue Assisted Living facility on Rosemont Avenue that are reserved for low-income residents.

A look back at Montevue

Here is a brief history of the Montevue Assisted Living facility and Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center in Frederick:

• 1828 — Frederick County purchases 94 acres from Elias and Catherine Brunner for $5,313.75, which will one day be the site of the Montevue Assisted Living.

• 1870 — Construction begins on a five-story building, which sits on what is now Rosemont Avenue in Frederick. The new building was named Montevue, French for “mountain view,” and designated as a hospital.

• 1871 — Through the early part of the 20th century, Montevue served as a hospital for low-income residents in the county. The physically and developmentally disabled were also sent to Montevue.

• 1976 — Citizens Care and Rehabilitation opened to its first residents, with Montevue becoming a home for semi-independent seniors. It was decided that accommodations in both homes would go first to residents on Medicare and Medicaid, with the county continuing to subsidize operations.

• July 2012 — Residents and staff moved into a new 40,000-square-foot assisted-living facility and 116,000-square-foot nursing home. The county spent $30 million building the two new homes, which sit on land adjacent to the former buildings, which were outdated, cramped and inefficient.

Sources: Frederick County Attorney John Mathias and “Heroic Work, The Story of Montevue Yesterday and Today,” by Cynthia A. Powell and Kay F. Sheiss.

They say that housing, medical care and food for those low-income residents would be jeopardized by the potential sale or lease of the assisted-living facility to a private firm.

The Frederick County Board of Commissioners on Jan. 24 began taking requests for the sale or lease of the Montevue Assisted Living facility and Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center in Frederick in an effort to save a $5 million annual subsidy to operate the two homes.

Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) said the board needs to make a decision because the county’s contract with LW Consulting Inc., the Harrisburg, Pa., firm that manages the two homes, expires on June 30.

Proposals are being handled by Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services of Maryland. The deadline to submit a proposal is March 12.

But some members of the 19-member aging commission — a panel appointed in part by the commissioners to advocate on behalf of seniors — and the nursing home’s board of trustees are concerned the commissioners are moving too fast.

“Why the rush now?” commission member Hermine Bernstein asked. “We understand that the LW contract ends. Do [the commissioners] have someone waiting in the wings?”

Bernstein said they plan to meet with the five commissioners to discuss the issue on Feb. 11.

Young said in a Jan. 24 news release that the process to explore options to sell or lease the homes would be handled openly and professionally. He stressed that no resident from either home would be put on the street by any proposal.

He said that budget restraints, possible cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, and expected federal and state budget reductions are forcing them to move forward.

“As stated previously, we are aware that the contract for the company managing the nursing home and assisted-living facility is due to expire June 30 this year, so now is an opportune time to explore the options to privatize,” he said.

Still, commission members and nursing home trustees worry what will happen in particular to the county’s low-income residents who hope to eventually move into Montevue.

The assisted-living facility offers 75 private efficiency apartments at a cost of $145 per day. But 60 beds are set aside for low-income residents who receive subsidized care.

“I think there are concerns with the 60 current beds for low-income seniors living in Montevue,” said Frederick Alderman Carol Krimm (D), who is a member of the commission. “We really have to focus on those 60 beds ... If [selling] is the path, then let’s focus on the 60 beds for the low-income.”

Sonja B. Sperlich, president of the nursing home’s board of trustees, agreed.

“Like the commission on aging, we have concerns in regards to the residents in the Montevue Assisted Living,” Sperlich said. “[These homes] are more than buildings. They are part of our heritage, our community. We hope to preserve them for future generations.”


‘No one ... put out’

In fiscal 2013, which ends June 30, the county is slated to spend $1,678,665 to operate Citizens and another $2,512,022 to run Montevue, for a total of $4,190,687.

Since 2000, the county has spent $53.5 million operating both homes, according to its figures.

The commissioners in November voted 3-1 to hire a licensed real-estate broker with experience in the marketing and sale of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to help with the sale of the two homes.

Young and commissioners Kirby Delauter (R) and C. Paul Smith (R) voted in favor of that proposal.

Commissioner Billy Shreve (R), who abstained from voting because he is a commercial real-estate agent, has said he is in favor of selling the two facilities.

Commissioner David P. Gray (R) was not at the meeting to vote, but he has been against selling the homes. He is also the commissioners’ liaison to the aging commission.

The panel sent a letter to commissioners last month voicing its concerns.

“As you are aware, the financial subsidy that up to 60 Montevue residents receive today cannot be replaced by other programs, community services or public facilities,” the commission on aging wrote.

“Frederick County residents who do not have private financial resources have little to no family for financial assistance or personal care availability and who do not meet a Medicaid level of care, have no options but to rely on Montevue Assisted Living for their room, board and care,” the letter said.

Responding in a Jan. 2 letter, Young emphasized that “no one will be put out on the street.”

Cost-cutting moves

Meanwhile, both Sperlich and Krimm said the board of trustees has worked hard to reduce county costs at the two homes, and more time should be given to allow the measures to work.

“The board of trustees has been very focused on cost-saving,” Krimm said. “They have looked at cutting overtime. They have looked at everything. They’re really working hard on cost-saving efficiencies.” For example, in fiscal 2012, salaries and benefits for employees were reduced, saving the county $625,000 annually.

A combined 214 residents live in both homes. There are currently 306 employees working at both facilities.

The two homes have also been rebuilt and expanded with new equipment, all in an effort to attract new residents who can afford to pay.

Citizens Care was also recently named as one of the top-ranking long-term care nursing homes in the state by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, according to a county news release issued on the same day as one announcing possible privatization.

The nursing home includes 75 private rooms, a special-care unit, an Alzheimer’s unit, a short-term rehabilitation unit, sun porch, library and living and dining rooms.

“We just moved in July,” Sperlich said. “They need to give us more time than six months to turn the facilities around. We haven’t had a good chance. ... There are so many many questions.”

sgreenfield@gazette.net