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Nursing home union, Westmoreland meet on shortfall

| Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Westmoreland County commissioners on Thursday again said the county-owned nursing home is not for sale.

Having met in the morning with officials of the union that represents more than 500 workers at Westmore-land Manor, commissioners said they want to focus on fixing the nursing home's finances.

The Manor is facing a budgetary shortfall that could increase to $4 million annually.

“There is nothing going on behind the curtain, but we can't afford to have the Manor hemorrhaging money. We have to figure out how to stop it,” Commissioner Charles Anderson said.

County officials last month were given a free appraisal of the 400-bed home in Hempfield that suggested it could be sold for as much as $32 million. The nursing home is operating with a $1.3 million deficit, and losses could continue to mount, the appraisal found.

For more than a decade, the Manor has operated without a direct contribution from the county's general fund, instead relying on state reimbursements and fees paid by residents to balance its books.

Commissioners said taxpayers soon could be asked to again contribute toward operating expenses for the nursing home.

“We're not on course to pay this year or next,” Commissioner Ted Kopas said. “We have to maintain this asset. It's too important to county residents to sell it.”

Westmoreland is one of 26 counties in Pennsylvania that own nursing homes. Brinda Penyak, deputy director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, said there is a trend among counties to divest themselves of nursing homes.

Beaver and Blair counties sold their homes this year, Penyak said.

“Reimbursements haven't kept pace with costs, and these facilities are heavily regulated. I would be surprised if it changed anytime in the future,” Penyak said. “The trend appears something that will continue.”

Later this month, Westmoreland County will solicit proposals from private companies to run the facility. Complete Healthcare Resources, a private eastern Pennsylvania company, has operated the Manor since 1996.

Last year, the company was paid $682,000 for management services, as well as for the salaries of the Manor's top two administrators and its director of nursing.

Complete Healthcare's five-year contract expires at the end of the year.

Officials said they are not seeking concessions from the union.

“We're just looking to keep a dialogue open about improvements that can be made,” Commissioner Tyler Courtney said. “Right now, we're just now starting to look at the management contract. We have to make sure we don't lose money at the Manor.”

Rita Treager, chapter president of Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania, said rank-and-file members are concerned about the nursing home's status.

At Thursday's meeting, Treager said, she was assured by commissioners that the facility will not be sold and there will be no job cuts.

“As of today, there is no plan to sell it. It's an asset to the county and to the residents of the county,” Treager said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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