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Butler County Commissioners narrow field of bidders for county's nursing home

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 1:06 a.m.

The Butler County Commissioners have narrowed the field of bidders for the county's nursing home.

Commissioner Bill McCarrier said on Friday that the bidders for Sunnyview Nursing Home have been reduced from eight nursing home companies to five.

“We're not limiting it to one. There are several companies we're looking at,” he said. “We want to make sure we keep our options open.”

McCarrier said the commissioners have not named the bidders because they are concerned it might have an adverse effect on the bidding process.

“We don't want them to know who they are dealing against,” he said.

The commissioners returned from a two-day trip to New York earlier in the week to view the facilities of some bidders. They were accompanied by Sunnyview's administrator and director of nursing.

McCarrier and fellow Republican Commissioner Dale Pinkerton said the trip was not moved up to expedite the sale as Democratic minority Commissioner Jim Eckstein alleged at Friday's agenda meeting. Eckstein opposes the Sunnyview sale.

Eckstein claimed that the trip was taken sooner rather than later to prevent the sale being short-circuited by a possible referendum that might keep the home in the county's hands.

“You can't have a referendum if it's already been sold,” Eckstein said.

He said that a referendum recently took place in another Pennsylvania county, which he did not name, that kept the nursing home there under the county's control. The sale of Gracedale Nursing Home in Northampton County was blocked by voters in a referendum in May of 2011.

However, McCarrier said the law allows home rule counties and, in some instances, third class counties like Northampton to hold a referendum on the issue. But he said that Butler, which is a fourth class county, has to follow the county code, which does not allow a referendum on the sale. He said that has been confirmed by county Solicitor Mike English.

“It's an uncertainty for a lot of the employees and we just want to keep it moving,” Pinkerton said.

“We want to do it as quickly as possible for the benefit of the employees and the residents,” McCarrier said. “We have two concerns: one, take care of employees and, two, take care of our residents.”

The bidders were found through a Chicago brokerage firm, Marcus and Millichap, retained by the county.

“We're not bound to sell it to the highest bidder,” McCarrier said. “Our goal is to sell it to the best one and the one that meets our conditions.”

He said the county's conditions cover several printed pages and include things such as maintaining Sunnyview as a skilled nursing facility for at least 10 years; maintaining a level of 70 percent Medicaid patients; and giving first preference to Butler County residents.

He said the five New York facilities the county officials viewed are in the New York City metropolitan area and are rated as four- and five-star nursing homes.

McCarrier said there is no timetable for the sale. But, he said, he had some experience as a member of the board of directors for the Masonic Homes in acquiring a nursing home in Sewickley and it was not the sale negotiations that took time in finalizing the deal.

“It didn't' take us a long time to complete the negotiations with the company but it took us a long time to get the approvals from the Department of Welfare,” McCarrier said.

He said, because the negotiations involve so many conditions and issues, the Pittsburgh law firm of Clark Hill Thorp Reed was retained to conduct them but he and English will be involved as well.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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