Workers at the county-run Warren Haven nursing home were given an impassioned vote of confidence Wednesday night by relatives of two of the home's guests, as they asked freeholders to resist privatization.
All three freeholders listened sympathetically to what Independence Twp., Warren Co., resident Ellen Bergman and Bangor, Northampton Co., resident Lisa Smith said about the Warren Haven staff, about a dozen of whom were at the meeting.
But the freeholders held out little hope that housekeeping, laundry and food service duties won't eventually be turned over to a private company in an effort to hold down costs at the 180-bed nursing home in Oxford Twp., Warren Co.
The county purchasing agent is in the process of putting together specifications that would be used by the freeholders to seek bids from companies to provide the services.
The nursing home was $1.3 million in the red in 2011, and that deficit could balloon to $2.5 million by the end of this year, officials said, adding that the county's total deficit is an estimated $3.5 million.
"The picture is not good for [government-run] nursing homes no matter where you go," said freeholder Rick Gardener. "They're writing checks in red ink."
Bergman said she's been paying almost $8,500 a month out of her own pocket since April 2009 to keep her father at Warren Haven, and she thinks the staff is doing a great job. "It's important to keep this place operational," she said.
Smith, whose mother has been a Warren Haven resident for two years, said she didn't understand why the freeholders were creating "turmoil" among such dedicated workers.
"It isn't fair," Smith said. "They [the workers] are short-handed, and they bust their butts."
Smith told the freeholders if money is being lost, it's the fault of Warren Haven's administrators.
Freeholder Jason Sarnoski responded that Warren Haven is losing money because of reduced reimbursement rates, and that even if some services are privatized, the companies will likely hire Warren Haven employees.
County administrator Steve Marvin noted that two years ago the county was being reimbursed $230 a day for its nursing home residents and that the rate has now been cut to $213 a day.
He said that with managed care providers becoming more dominant, the daily rate could drop even further, perhaps as low as $190 a day.
"The plan seems to be [to] keep them [the elderly] out of nursing homes and pay the least amount possible," Marvin said.
Steve Werkheiser, of Bangor, who is a washer operator at Warren Haven, said talk of privatization has lowered morale at the home. "A lot of employees don't know where they stand," he said.
Werkheiser also asked if there was a time line on making a decision about privatization.
Marvin said it would be at least six to eight months before anything could be done.