County commissioners vote to begin process of turning Centre Crest into nonprofit nursing home

Centre County likely will be getting out of the nursing home business.

Despite pleas from minority Commissioner Michael Pipe to wait, the Centre County Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 on Tuesday to begin the transfer of Centre Crest Nursing Home in Bellefonte to a nonprofit facility.

County officials will identify a nine-member community board of directors and draft documents to transfer management of the facility to that board, the commissioners agreed. The county will still own the building, and the commissioners still must sign the paperwork to officially transfer control of the home.

The board will take additional votes to transfer the deed and the license.

“I personally have tried very hard to make Centre Crest viable,” Commissioner Chris Exarchos said of the troubled nursing home. “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.”

Exarchos hopes the process can be concluded by the end of the year with the nonprofit taking over in 2014. He added that the board will listen to community feedback in the meantime.

Pipe voted against the proposal and made a presentation earlier in the meeting for $5 million in investments to keep the facility under the county umbrella.

He said he was unaware a vote would be taken Tuesday and urged his fellow commissioners to hold off.

“My trust level with you two gentlemen is at zero today,” he said of commissioners Exarchos and Chairman Steve Dershem.

The improvements pitched by the lone Democrat included a new entrance for a revamped rehabilitation unit, remodeled rooms, a new cafeteria, additional staffing and smaller improvements around the facility such as painting and cork boards.

Pipe announced last week that he would vote against the proposed nonprofit because he didn’t believe all options had been exhausted to keep the home county-owned. He added that the nonprofit wouldn’t have the necessary credit history to make the investments that the current facility needs.

The Pipe plan would include a two-tenths mill debt service tax increase, and the county would still need to float the facility about $1 million per year.

While Exarchos agrees that all Pipe’s proposed improvements are viable changes, he said the plan still doesn’t address the low Medicaid reimbursement rates. The General Assembly locked the Medicaid reimbursements for county-owned homes in 2006, and Centre Crest remains at the third lowest in the state.

The nonprofit would be reimbursed at a higher rate based on the level of care.

“The problem is the reimbursement structure we’re faced with is grossly unfair,” Exarchos said.

Under the change, the county would lease the building to the nonprofit, but Dershem said he would like to forgive rent payments for five years to give the organization a cushion to help build a new facility.

He wanted to make this change before a future board would have the opportunity to sell the facility.

Pipe said he was disappointed with the way the vote was handled because it seemed rushed. He said there was no mention of possible action of the item on the internal draft agenda that was distributed last week. That agenda is subject to be changed, but Pipe said he wasn’t specifically alerted of any changes.

The agenda handed out at Tuesday’s meeting listed the item as “Centre Crest Nursing Home —Discussion/Possible Action.”

Exarchos said he didn’t know going into the meeting if he would make a motion and wanted to wait until the conclusion of Pipe’s presentation to make a final decision.

But, he said the proposal didn’t change his position.

More than five concerned community members attended the meeting, but none spoke during the allotted public comment time at the beginning of the meeting.

After the conclusion of the meeting, several people voiced criticism of the Republican commissioners for the swift action.

Brenda Black, of Halfmoon Township, said she was angry that the vote was taken before county residents got to see the specifics of Pipe’s proposal.

“I think voting so precipitously this morning was unconscionable,” she told the board.

The next step for the commissioners will be to name a community board of directors — a process already in the works.

The commissioners have contacted some prominent community members to gauge interest in serving. Exarchos said the talks have been encouraging, and the board is beginning to come together.

Specific names were not available, other than Betsy Boyer, Centre Crest Auxiliary United Way liaison, whose name has been discussed.

The county will continue to work with the consultant, Complete HealthCare Resources, in the transition to the nonprofit.