Should the Emery County Care and Rehabilitation Center in Ferron be sold?
A discussion was held at the local building authority meeting on Feb. 14 regarding the Emery County Care and Rehabilitation Center. The discussion centered around the lease or sale of the Emery County Care and Rehabilitation Center in Ferron. Land use authority chairman Laurie Pitchforth said the issue is on the agenda because of the attorneys.
Commissioner James Nelson said the county has been approached lately by various groups in the care center field that wonder why the county is in the nursing home business at all. The care center was recently remodeled. Commissioner Nelson wondered if it is a financial benefit to the county to have the care center. He wondered if it might be beneficial and cost effective to relieve some of the liabilities the county has by either leasing or selling the facility.
Commissioner Jeff Horrocks said they have been approached by care center providers and he wonders if the county is in conflict with private enterprise. When the nursing home was first built 47 years ago there wasn't anyone operating a similar facility in the county. He said due to the recent renovation of the building it is like new and he wonders if this might be an appropriate time to liquidate the facility while it's in good condition. The county has had offers to sell or lease the building. If the county keeps the building then Commissioner Horrocks said he would like to see the lease put out for bid, but "personally, I would like to sell it."
Commissioner Pitchforth said the building is not being rented, but is managed by the company Traditions. She believes the county is not in the business to make money, but to provide a service for county residents. Part of their oath of office as commissioners was to take care of the health and welfare of the citizens of Emery County and she believes the care center is part of that equation. She thinks the facility operating as a non-profit helps keep costs down and that's why it was built. She pointed out other counties which contribute to a care center in their county. Millard contributes $100,000 each year. Uintah County has a non-profit care center which is operated under a special service district and they contribute $60,000 per month to subsidize the care center. She doesn't feel the Emery County Care and Rehabilitation Center is a burden to the county. When she evaluated the price of new care centers back before the remodel the price was approximately $6 million. With all the remodeling at the Ferron facility she thinks it would appraise near $5 million. She doesn't feel the county needs to sell or lease the facility. But, she was instructed to bring it to discussion. "We need to make some decisions, or let it be," said Pitchforth.
Commissioner Horrocks said the building will need to be appraised before any further action can be considered. Attorney David Blackwell said if the county decides to sell the facility, it must be put out for competitive bid.
Under citizen concerns, Alec Stephenson spoke to the board, he said he is the current administrator at the Emery County Care and Rehab Center in Ferron. He feels the facility is a real special gem in Ferron. "What makes it so special," said Stephenson. He says the facility enjoys a special relationship with the county which he hopes will continue. He has been an administrator for 20 years as well as physicians assistant and he has a masters in business administration. He said he and his wife never expected to find what they have in Ferron. It has become a special place to them. The facility has happy residents and a happy staff. He said he would hate to see those things change if it became a for-profit business. He has worked for a for-profit and now at this non-profit business and he can see the differences between the way the two are operated. "This is why I came down here, to be part of the magic," said Stephenson.
Stephenson said Ensign is a good company and there are many good companies out there, but if it converts to for-profit, then what's unique about the facility will go. Stephenson said the economy has been tough on everyone as well as care centers, but they are maintaining and meeting their pay roll each month and still paying the bills. "We are doing it, I am concerned if a change, might upset this delicate balance. Right now we have fine dining experiences for our residents. We have an ala carte menu for them to order selections. There are many personal perks, that will go if we change to for- profit."
There are 60 employees at the care center currently, this number has reduced over time from the 78 employees when Stephenson first came to the center. "If we trim back any more we will lose what Emery County Care and Rehab is all about," said Stephenson, "Things that make it unique will disappear if we sell or lease the facility. The facility is clean and there are no odors. A for-profit company might cut services or employees."
Commissioner Horrocks told Stephenson there have been no complaints and they run a good ship at the care center and it's much appreciated.
Stephenson said if the facility is leased or sold, he might not want to stay or the new company may not want him. He said it's difficult to find an administrator that might want to come to Emery County for the salary that's paid here.
Commissioner Nelson said before they make any decisions a public hearing would need to be held for community comments and input.
Al Shakespaere from Pinnacle Care Center said he was the administrator at the Emery County Care Center a few years back. There is a great culture there that has grown within the community and that's very important. He is currently with the Ensign group and they go in and make improvements in a facility but work to maintain the identity of the care center and the community. Their facilities give quality care to their residents. They work to keep staff happy and to keep residents happy. They offer true service and quality care. From a business standpoint there are always some changes. With smart managing, quality care will not be jeopardized. "Ensign is a great company and I've been there three years. It's the real deal," said Shakespaere. He said their company works to make sure people are happy.
Commissioner Pitchforth said they have been approached by for-profit companies, but she is happy with the way the care center is handled now.
Commissioner Horrocks said all the commissioners should work together for the best solution for this issue for the good of the county people. The fiduciary responsibility of the county must be considered. People at the care center must receive the best care possible. The care center is a county owned and built facility with a $2 million renovation project factored in two years ago. There is a cost to the county. The county must look at whether a private company could run the facility more efficiently than the county. There is also the concern of competing with private enterprise. When the facility was first constructed it was the only one of its kind in the county, now there are private businesses that offer care. Commissioner Horrocks said he's not sure what should be done, but it should be looked at and what's best for the citizens of the county should be determined.
Commissioner Pitchforth said she has done much research on the subject and views the care center as an asset to the county and not a burden and it should continue to be a county facility.
When the remodel took place the county was awarded $800,000 of CIB money to assist with the costs associated with the project. The remodel project went well over budget as many problem areas came to light as the work progressed. But, the work is complete and now the county has a very modern care center facility.