Our View | Centre Crest lessons for community

June 22, 2013 

Centre County residents received a strong reminder last week that when you wait to get involved, you might miss the boat.

In something of a surprise move, the county commissioners voted Tuesday to move forward with a plan to convert the Centre Crest nursing home into a nonprofit facility.

The plan was supported by Chairman Steve Dershem and Chris Exarchos, both Republicans. Democrat Michael Pipe voted against it after making a pitch to keep the home under county government control.

Several people in attendance complained about the quick vote. A intention to vote was not exactly spelled out on the meeting’s agenda, which included this item: “Centre Crest Nursing Home — Discussion/Possible Action.”

Letters to the editor in the ensuing days took the majority commissioners to task for moving before Pipe’s proposal could be explored further.

“My trust level with you two gentlemen is at zero today,” Pipe told his colleagues after Tuesday’s vote.

We understand Pipe’s frustration — to a point.

The plan to turn Centre Crest into a nonprofit was not hatched and adopted in a single morning.

The commissioners unveiled the idea early this year and followed up with a series of public meetings across the county throughout the spring. At one such meeting, the county board members and staff outnumbered residents in attendance.

No meeting drew an angry mob bearing torches and pitchforks screaming for the county to maintain its control of the nursing home.

The plan has been discussed liberally since then, even as Pipe visited other similar facilities and put together his plan for preserving Centre Crest as a government-run home.

Exarchos said any positive attributes of Pipe’s approach wouldn’t offset the loss of revenue the home has seen because of reduced Medicaid reimbursements.

“I personally have tried very hard to make Centre Crest viable,” Commissioner Chris Exarchos said Tuesday. “Frankly, I’ve come to the conclusion that counties really shouldn’t be in the nursing home business, and I think the data will support me.”

Dershem lashed out at opponents of the nonprofit plan during a radio interview last week with WBLF’s Jerry Fisher. He accused former commissioners John Eich and Scott Conklin, now a state representative, of attempting to impact the future of Centre Crest politically from beyond the commissioners’ office.

Dershem’s position: Had past boards acted decisively, Centre Crest would be in a stronger position now.

“I’m a little tired of the politics. I’m a little tired of the criticism,” Dershem said. “I’m a little tired of all this being bantered about who’s not doing what. … That’s exactly what I want to get away from.”

Under the adopted plan, the county would maintain ownership of the Centre Crest building, but would turn over operations to an outside group.

Dershem and Exarchos said they will remain open to feedback and suggestions for Centre Crest, but they plan to move ahead with the recruitment of potential board members to oversee the nonprofit, beginning in 2014.

Pipe has pledged to work hard to make sure the transition brings the county nursing home to a better place, even if he opposed the concept.

County residents should view the episode as a reminder that those who hesitate may get lost in the shuffle when important decisions are in the works.

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