More than 200 attend county commissioners’ 2nd information session
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Special to UnionvilleTimes.com
DOWNINGTOWN — The venue was larger and the crowd a bit smaller, but the message to the Chester County commissioners remained virtually the same: Don’t privatize the Pocopson Home.
The input occurred during the second in a series of public meetings to discuss the findings of a strategic plan for the county-owned Pocopson Home, a 275-bed long-term, health-care facility. About 230 people attended the forum, which was held in the auditorium of Downingtown High School East.
But unlike the May 2 meeting, the sentiments to keep the facility county-owned and operated were not unanimous. Although more than 20 speakers urged the commissioners to find ways to fund the ballooning costs, a couple of residents suggested the county would be better served to sell the facility.
The commissioners have explained that declining state and federal reimbursements and skyrocketing operating costs prompted them several months ago to contract Premier Healthcare Resources, a King of Prussia firm, to prepare a strategic plan and financial analysis. The results of that study were released at the first meeting, prompting an hour of heartfelt testimony about the Pocopson Home’s incomparable quality of care from the crowd of approximately 250.
At last night’s meeting, speakers were encouraged not to repeat the impassioned testimonials that echoed throughout the first meeting, but some could not contain themselves. Diane Graham, who spoke with difficulty, drew the loudest applause after she lovingly described her home of 21 years.
Helen Weber of East Goshen elicited some gasps when she opined that she didn’t believe taxpayers should foot the bill. “I don’t know why the county should be in this business,” she said.
As before, the commissioners stressed that no decision on the home’s fate has been made, no residents would be displaced no matter what the outcome, and at least one more hearing will be scheduled to review the options.
“We can’t make a decision without taking the temperature of Chester County,” said Commissioners’ Chairman Terence Farrell, explaining the need for the meetings, which will be publicized on the county’s web site.
“We’re still evaluating everything,” said Commissioner Ryan Costello. “I am not interested in being a part of anything that would involve any one of you moving out of your home …We are all sensitive to the quality-of-care issues.”
Costello said that because the Pocopson Home requires subsidies, the commissioners “owe it to you as taxpayers” to evaluate the facility. “We don’t have to be in this business,” he said.. “This is just us doing our best to be transparent and accountable.”
Without making a recommendation, the report focused on three changes that would enable the county to save money on the facility: converting it to a nonprofit 501c3, leasing it to a private operator, or selling it. The springboard for last night’s discussion was an hourlong presentation by Joann Jones, Premier Healthcare’s president, which featured projections on future operating losses at the home, ranging from a possible $1.4 million in 2012 to $3.1 million in 2016. She also identified two possible income-producing additions to the home – dialysis treatment and short-term rehabilitation.
Some of the numbers raised questions.
For example, Costello wanted to know why the consultants predicted a 1 percent increase for Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements in 2013. After learning that the projection was based on historical patterns, he paused. “If it rains for a while, it has to get sunny?” he asked.
Patricia Barry, a nurse from West Brandywine Township, wanted more information on what she viewed as the disproportionately high “indirect costs” assigned to Pocopson, such as allocations for the county’s human resources and accounting services. Cozzone said the commissioners would research the formula used. Costello said “a good portion” of the financial losses stemming from those costs – about $1.4 million – would continue even if the county sold the facility.
Despite the red ink, many speakers said they believed the county should continue to fund the facility. And, like the first meeting, several had suggestions, which ran the gamut from raising taxes to saving energy.
Donald G. Kane, a West Vincent Township resident and retired Air Force colonel, wondered if the county could partner with the Veterans’ Administration to enhance revenue through some services. He also urged the commissioners to explore environmental options such as geo-wells – and government grants to fund them. “People like Andy Dinniman can go get you some money,” he said.
In her brief summation at the end of the meeting, Commissioner Kathi Cozzone joined her colleagues in thanking the audience for its participation. “I encourage you to continue to come to meetings,” she said. “I certainly understand the value of Pocopson Home in our community.”
Those who are unable to attend the meetings, which are being videotaped, can view them on the county web site, said county spokeswoman Rebecca Brain.
The Pocopson Home, which is located on Route 52 in Pocopson Township, offers care for adults of all ages as well as professional medical, nursing and rehabilitation services. It is certified by both the Medicare and Medicaid programs and also accepts private-paying residents for admission.