County approves lease, transfer agreement to make Centre Crest a nonprofit nursing home

Centre County is out of the nursing home business.

County commissioners on Tuesday approved a lease and asset transfer agreement that shifts management of Centre Crest to Centre Care Inc., a newly incorporated nonprofit that will take over the 240-bed facility Nov. 1.

With a 2-1 vote, the commissioners ended months of speculation about the future of the nursing home. It’s been the subject of public hearings and debate at commissioners meetings.

Commissioners Steve Dershem and Chris Exarchos said keeping the facility under county control would likely result in tax increases. The county has recently budgeted $1 million to cover the nursing home’s expenses.

Michael Pipe voted against the plan Tuesday, saying the commissioners didn’t exhaust all options to keep the facility under the county’s control.

The lease essentially transfers management of the nursing home to the nonprofit. In addition to Centre Crest’s operations, the organization will be responsible for maintenance, upkeep and future work for the building, which will still be owned by Centre County.

As landlord, the county will retain some say over the property — the commissioners must approve any renovations exceeding $150,000 in a calendar year.

The commissioners didn’t close the door Tuesday on providing assistance for possible future needs for the aging structure. Exarchos estimated the building has five to 10 useful years left as it stands.

“I look at this as a marriage rather than a divorce,” board Chairman Steve Dershem said. “We are not walking away.

“I’m going to do everything I can to make sure Centre Crest is successful,” he later said.

The commissioners have already shown that to the new committee by deciding not to charge rent, continuing to pay on bonds taken out to replace the building’s roof and handing over funds from accounts receivable to the nonprofit.

Exarchos said subsidizing the nonprofit would allow the organization to put more money into the facility and to provide better care for Centre County residents.

“It’s still a public facility,” he said. “If this were handed over to a private entity, I probably wouldn’t be making the same arguments. It’s just a change in management structure. It still belongs to the citizens of his county, so all we are doing is trying to make sure it succeeds.

“We’re not subsidizing someone’s profit margins,” Exarchos continued. “We’re not subsidizing someone’s stock options. All we are doing is subsidizing the care residents hopefully will receive at this facility.”