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More layoffs expected at Armstrong County Health Center

Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
The Armstrong County Health Center on South McKean Street in Kittanning could be the scene of employee layoffs as changes are made at the center.

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Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, 12:06 p.m.

An undisclosed number of layoffs has been made at the Armstrong County Health Center, and more are expected to come as early as Feb. 1.

“There were some layoffs, but there is a process that needs to be completed,” Armstrong County Commission Chairman David Battaglia said at a Thursday afternoon meeting of the board. “It is bleeding money ... we're losing a significant amount of money.”

Battaglia would not say how many people have been laid off, or how many will lose their jobs in the next round of layoffs.

Daniel Lucovich, county director of human resources, said he met with officials of the Service Employees Internal Union, which represents the center's employees, to discuss upcoming layoffs and other changes being made at the facility as a result of the hiring of Indiana's Affinity Health Services to manage the center.

“We have to work with the union and take it one step at a time with each of the people there,” Lucovich said. “If we have layoffs, I doubt it would be more than a handful.”

He declined to discuss specifics of the talks with the union.

In November, Affinity signed a three-year contract that will pay it $173,000 to manage the center in the first year. What the company is paid in the final two years of the contract will be based on the center's residential population. County officials have said that hiring the company was done to improve operations and solve its financial problems.

“If we didn't make a change in management, in two or three years, we probably would have lost the health center,” Commissioner Bob Bower said. “Butler County is currently in the process of selling theirs, and others are being sold all across the state, but our goal is to keep ours.”

The center is a 115-bed nursing facility on South McKean Street and has about 90 residents and 150 employees, Lucovich said. It offers adult day care, independent-living suites, on-site rehabilitation services and therapeutic activities, along with on-site beautician services.

“They are there to make improvements, with the goal of serving the residents being the top priority,” Lucovich said about Affinity. “We're committed to keep it as a county home indefinitely.”

Affinity last year performed an operational assessment of the center and identified several ways to make operations more efficient. The company expects to increase revenues by making improvements to the center's operation. While details about the changes have not been released, layoffs are one of the things deemed necessary for the health center to remain fiscally viable, Battaglia said.

“There are no plans to sell the facility,” Battaglia said.

The county has budgeted $9.6 million for the center this year, which is a decrease of $105,379 from 2013. Last year, the health center went over its budget by approximately $800,000, Lucovich said.

But Commissioner Rich Fink said the county has never considered selling the center.

“Affinity knows we cannot continue this type of service when we're losing that kind of money,” Fink said. “We're not in it to make money, but we need to at least break even and provide a good level of service. We're trying to make this place self-sufficient.”

Some residents at the meeting told commissioners they were concerned that talk of layoffs is hurting morale and quality of care at the center.

Gary Mohne said he has noticed low morale and staff-shortages when he visits his son who stays at the center daily.

Ford City resident Tom Emmonds, whose wife, Vivian, lives at the center, said he worries about its future.

“Being there every day, I see and hear a lot, and right now there is a big disturbance going on,” Emmonds said. “The people are different — they're all fearing for their jobs, and there are rumors of a big layoff. The care is not there anymore.”

Lucovich said he plans to meet with the health center employees and management to address such concerns raised at the meeting.

“If the employees are having problems, they're sure not telling us, and the level of care is there,” Lucovich said. “We're trying to make improvements.”

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