Residents urge commissioners not to sell or lease the county facility
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
The message from the commissioners at last night’s third meeting on the fate of the county-owned Pocopson Home echoed the earlier sessions: The board is not singling out the 275-bed, long-term, health-care facility for budget cuts, has not made a decision on its future, and will not uproot any of the residents.
The message from a crowd of about 200 at the Penn’s Grove Middle School in Oxford reiterated the sentiments expressed last month in West Chester and Downingtown: Don’t make any changes that will compromise the excellent care the much-needed facility provides, even if taxes have to rise.
The commissioners scheduled the meetings to discuss a strategic plan and financial analysis prepared by Premier Healthcare Resources, a King of Prussia firm. The board sought the report amid declining state and federal reimbursements and increased operating costs for the Pocopson Home, which is located on Route 52 in Pocopson Township.
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.
Joanne Jones, the president of Premier Healthcare Resources, estimated the home’s value at about $12 million; however, she said it needs approximately $6 million in capital improvements.
Emphasizing that Pocopson has not been the only target of belt-tightening, Chester County Commissioners’ Chairman Terence Farrell cited $56 million in cuts from multiple departments over the past four years. “We started out years ago cutting fat from the budget, “ he said. “Now we’re cutting to the bone.”
Commissioner Kathi Cozzone joined her colleagues in thanking the residents who braved the rain to attend the meeting and said that their presence underscored the facility’s value. “We all understand the home is important to the community,” she said, urging the audience to share their views with legislators.
John Mastrippolito of Kennett Square, whose father-in-law resides at the home, drew hearty applause when he likened proposals to control the quality of care through a lease or purchase agreement to a babysitter ”unable to spank the child.” He also questioned the repercussions for the county if the private provider went bankrupt. “The turnout at these meetings should tell you something,” he said.
Jim Sumner of Oxford also elicited applause when he suggested that the county should focus on “ethical management” rather than market analysis. “We need to help those who are in need,” he said.
Commissioner Ryan Costello said the response from the community had deepened his understanding of the home’s significance, and he pledged to continue “trying to reduce costs without compromising services.”
Costello questioned a recommendation by Luisa Cywinski of Tredyffrin that the county issue a referendum. He suggested that by outsourcing “that decision to the electorate, ” citizens would not be able to hold the commissioners accountable. Farrell added that Pennsylvania law would make the referendum non-binding.
Cywinski also asked about Premier Healthcare’s management role at Delaware County’s assisted-living facility. Jones said her company had always had a consulting role there and took over the day-to-day operations on a temporary basis in March 2011 after the administrator and assistant administrator took other jobs in the county.
“Their intent was to have their own people,” she said of Delaware County. She said the hiring process took about a year. “There were no changes that we made,” she said.
Jones said 32 counties operate their own nursing homes. Like Chester County, Delaware County’s home is operating in the red, she said. Bucks County is able to avoid red ink because it has “far more private-pay” residents, she said.
The 501c3 option drew the least amount of criticism from the approximately 15 citizens who addressed the commissioners.
According to Jones, the facility would still be county-owned but would be governed by a board of directors. Costs could be reduced by eliminating the mandatory pension program for future employees and increasing the number of per-diem workers.
The county would incur legal fees to set up the corporation, but the facility would be permitted to fund-raise, she said. That possibility prompted Ann Esposito of Birmingham Township, whose twin sister resides at the Pocopson Home, to volunteer to be one of the first fund-raisers.
After the 2 ½-hour forum ended, Farrell said he expected another meeting would be held, but not before the commissioners had an opportunity to research some of the suggestions citizens made, such as generating revenue by adding adult day care and respite care to the facility.
The Pocopson Home, which is certified to accept Medicare and Medicaid, offers care for adults of all ages as well as professional medical, nursing and rehabilitation services. Videos of the previous meetings can be viewed on the county’s web site: www.chesco.org.