Care center fate still in doubt

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK A crowd of Monroe Care Center staff and people with relatives in the facility voice opposition Monday to county commissioners’ decision to close to center.

WOODSFIELD — Emotions ran high Monday in the debate about the fate of the Monroe County Care Center.

About 50 people including staff, relatives of staff, and relatives of the elderly people residing at the 166-year-old professional rehabilitation and nursing services provider confronted Monroe County Commissioners Tim Price, Carl Davis and Mick Schumacher regarding their 2-1 vote last week to close the site. Schumacher opposed the decision.

Since then, Administrator Jessica Price has been seeking prospective new owners who might purchase and take over management of the care center.

The commissioners rejected a $250,000 bid from Bryan Casey of Alternative Living Solutions. Tim Price noted that the land, building and furnishings are valued at more than $3.5 million, and the commissioners have invested more than $6 million in renovations and upgrades in recent years. The commissioners did not put the bid to a vote.

“I did not consider $250,000 was a good faith offer,” Tim Price said.

Although they did not consider the offer, the commissioners did agree to give Jessica Price the opportunity to find interested buyers. She has not yet been ordered to file an official notice, so the 90-day countdown to closing the center has not yet begun.

The discussion continued for more than two hours Monday with the public and Jessica Price weighing in.

Many expressed love for the building, the staff and the care provided to the residents, with some expressing concern that another option for elder care would be too far away to allow regular visits.

Others spoke eloquently about the county’s duty to local seniors who have lived in the area and paid their taxes.

Many mentioned the improvements the center has undergone in recent years, including its recent recognition as a five-star facility by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Others said that the loss of staff might mean a further economic blow to the area as the jobs move elsewhere.

Jessica Price expressed frustration, saying she believes the center is close to operating in the black and that prospective residents have shown an interest locating there. Due to the uncertainty surrounding the site’s future, though, she said she could not bring in more residents if they would have to move out again soon.

She said afterward that the center had been increasing its number of residents but had lost some with the announcement of the planned closure. She said the 60-capacity facility is about half full. She added that there has been an increase in revenue and said this was the first month the center has not had to request funds from the county.

“I can’t say what we’d bring in at capacity, but it would be profitable,” she said. “We’d be a financial asset to the community.”

Others agreed.

“My mother was there, my mother-in-law was there, my husband was there, and I worked there for 13 years. It’s a money-maker. It’ll make money again,” Dixie Fliehman of Woodsfield said after the meeting.

During the meeting, several visitors demanded that the commissioners allow the care center to run for another year to see if matters would further improve. Tim Price reiterated that the county would have to borrow money to continue to subsidize the care center. Afterward, he said the commissioners could not speculate at this time about how much might need to be borrowed to give the center another year.

He also said he believed the situation surrounding the care center was already uncertain.

After the center lost its certification to provide care for Medicare and Medicaid patients, the commissioners undertook renovations and changed the facility’s administration. The board hires the health care consulting firm LeaderStat to oversee the recertification process at a cost of $22,000 per month.

Tim Price, who made the motion to close the center, said he would not rescind it. Afterward, Davis said the commissioners follow a protocol that dictates that the official who made the motion must be the one to rescind it.

Schumacher, who had opposed the closure, made a motion that the commissioners would continue to operate the center. No one seconded. Tempers rose during the course of the meeting, and Schumacher angrily left the session about halfway through and spoke with other visitors who left the room while discussion continued.

“I didn’t want to say anything I was going to live to regret,” he said.

Toward the end of the meeting, Chris Hoff of Woodsfield asked if the public could provide a list of prospective residents who would guarantee they would utilize the center and, if the list would bring the center to capacity, the commissioners would rescind. Tim Price and Davis had no answer to that question Monday. Afterward, Hoff said her mother is a resident of the facility and has been treated very well at the care center.

A union representative then presented a request that the commissioners make a successorship agreement to maintain the staff as a condition of a change of ownership. The board made no decision on that matter.