Almost five years have passed since Lebanon County sold its nursing home, Cedar Haven, to private, for-profit owners. The same commissioners are in office today, and their views on the move reflect their goals and concerns at the time.
Cedar Haven was losing money in 2013. Pension liabilities, rising operating costs, and decreasing government reimbursements led Commissioners Bob Phillips, Jo Ellen Litz, and Bill Ames to explore a sale.
After an investigation of several potential buyers, which focused on continuing high-quality patient care as much as finances, the Commissioners voted 2 to 1 to sell the home to Complete HealthCare Resources.
The $25.5 million sale was completed in late 2014. CHR was not the high bidder, but the Commissioners were impressed by its operation of a Lancaster County facility.
Existing employees were allowed to keep their jobs, but lost some benefits available only to public employees.
Litz was the lone dissenter. She cited unresolved concerns about quality of care, as well as a belief that the county had a duty to directly provide for the care of its poor and elderly.
Events following the sale did not always go as planned. Questions arose about the identity of the real purchaser and whether the commissioners knew at the time of the sale. Labor disputes and an unsuccessful strike followed in 2016 and 2017.
And now, a number of lawsuits by vendors who say they weren’t paid by Stone Barn Holdings, LLC., the home’s current operator, are pending in Lebanon County court. Together, they claim over $1,000,000. None of the lawsuits claims that the county has any responsibility.
In recent interviews with LebTown, Ames and Phillips said they were generally pleased with the quality of care at Cedar Haven and the improvement of the county’s financial standing.
Ames stressed that private owners are able to focus on running homes and caring for patients. He is satisfied that patient care has not suffered. “The government can’t run anything,” he said.
Inspections conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Health from September, 2016 through May 29, 2019, including several responding to undisclosed complaints, have all revealed “substantial compliance” with applicable regulations or “no deficiencies.”
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services rates Cedar Haven “3 Stars -Average.” The star rating system gives a facility a rating between 1 and 5 stars based on three factors: health inspections, staffing, and quality of resident care.
Phillips agrees with Ames that quality of care has not suffered. He also pointed out the financial strain the County faced in 2013 and how the sale has made the county healthier.
“We were losing $50 per patient per day, for 300 patients,” he said. “$15,000 a day is a lot, even for government.
“We were getting close to junk bond rating. Now we have an ‘A’ rating.”
In an email to LebTown, Commissioner Litz conceded that, while she opposed the sale, the county is on better financial footing than it was in 2014. She still sees the sale as shirking the county’s obligations to its poor and elderly.
“In the end, counties are still responsible for the indigent. Since William Penn, a county’s job is to take care of the poor,” she said. “I . . . believe that counties will one day look back on the decision to sell as a mistake if they have to start all over to build a county home . . . In short, real estate is an asset. Once gone, it is expensive to replace and rebuild.”
Litz was also concerned that current ownership has poorly treated its suppliers. Depending on how several lawsuits underway in Lebanon County play out, she could be right.
The biggest, asking for over $1.4 million, has been filed by Culinary Services Group of Maryland against Cedar Acquisition Group and Stone Barn Holdings, doing business as Cedar Haven Healthcare. Culinary Services claims that it had a contract to provide food service at Cedar Haven until January 2019, and that the owners broke it. In a counterclaim, the owners say that Culinary Services didn’t do what it promised to do, and were fired.
Several similar lawsuits for unpaid staffing services have been filed by, among others, Just Like Family Services, for $26,824, and Urgent Medical Staffing Solutions, for $62,117. A request for a court date has been filed in the Just Like Family Lawsuit. The others do not appear to be close to a resolution.
Since all of the suits involve events happening after the sale, none of them names the county as a defendant.