Nursing home’s fate lies with Dickens County officials

Posted on Tuesday 23 September 2008

The following blog post is an article which will appear in the September 25 issue of The Texas Spur. I am posting it tonight, for those of you who would like to see it prior to tomorrow morning’s Dickens County Commissioners Court meeting:

By Cindi Taylor
The fate of the nursing home in Spur is hanging in the balance again, and Dickens County Commissioners are uncomfortably resting the ample issue of its fate in their hands. At stake is finding yet another buyer for the White River Care Center, formerly Dickens County Nursing Home, or keeping it open using taxpayer money to operate it.
The Dickens County Commissioners Court was informed of the termination of a lease/purchase agreement with Briarwood Nursing Centers, LLC at a special called meeting held Monday, September 15. The company’s owner, Gerald D. Fowler, cited health reasons for opting out of the agreement.
Even with the agreement in place, the county has received the $2,500 monthly rent (which applied to the purchase price) only for the first few months of Briarwood’s operation of the nursing home which began on July 1, 2007. Now Dickens County is faced with resuming operation of the nursing home, finding another entity to purchase and operate it, or shut the doors on the facility for good.
Dickens County Commissioners were supposed to meet to discuss the county’s options in a special meeting on Wednesday, September 24. The meeting was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m. at the Dickens County Courthouse.
The Texas Spur was already at press at the time of Wednesday morning’s meeting, so any news coverage of that meeting will appear in the October 2 issue, but those with internet access can see news coverage at www.thetexasspur.com/blog sometime after Wednesday’s meeting.
Judge Arnold told The Texas Spur on Monday afternoon that she still had no buyers interested in the facility which housed only 17 residents as of September 22. She also said that a nursing home broker told her that the age of the facility would also keep buyers away.
Judge Arnold said that if the facility is closed, it would never operate as a nursing home again because of the building’s age. Once the doors are closed on a nursing home in a building as old as the one currently housing the Spur nursing home, it would no longer pass inspection, because older facilities are exempt from many requirements now required for healthcare facilities.
Wednesday’s meeting, much anticipated by county residents and taxpayers, was expected to draw a large number of people. An open forum was to be held at the beginning of the meeting. Public comments were to be limited to five minutes per person, according to Judge Arnold.
Last week there were rumors that the county commissioners meeting would be held in closed session, and they would not allow public comment during the meeting. But, under Texas open meetings law, the commissioners meetings are open to the public. However, the commissioners do have the right to go into a closed executive session under Texas open meeting statutes to consult with an attorney to receive the attorney’s legal advice. They may also discuss the nursing home issue in closed executive session because it applies to the “purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property…” according to Texas open meetings law. Should the commissioners go into closed session, then they will reconvene in open session to conduct a vote and make their decision.
Judge Arnold told The Texas Spur on Monday that she did not know whether a decision would be made on the nursing home during Wednesday’s meeting, but she said it was on the agenda, at the request of the commissioners, so that they could vote on a decision if possible.
Judge Arnold told The Texas Spur that a decision must be made quickly, though, in order for the county to get an application into the Texas Department of Aging and Disabilities (TDAD) for a license to operate the facility and to apply for a license to receive Medicare. The application process for an operator’s license will have to be completed before a 30-day window expires. Briarwood notified the Texas Department of Aging and TDAD of their plans on September 16.
“Time is of the essence on getting our license,” said Judge Arnold. “We have to have at least our operator’s license in hand by October 16 in order to keep the nursing home open.”
The nursing home has approximately 30 employees with a payroll of approximately $480,000 per year. The loss of those jobs and income is something that will be felt throughout the community of Spur and Dickens County.
“It will have an impact on every business in town,” says Charlotte Blackburn, director of nurses at the White River Care Center.
She sees the economy being affected if the nursing home should close, since employees may have to go outside the community to find jobs and live. This would have an impact on the local economy.
“The staff that currently works at White River Care Center will have to find other jobs in other communities,” says Jennifer Warren, nurse practitioner at the Spur Clinic who assists with patient care at the nursing home, “If they work somewhere else, they will probably move, taking their families out of Spur schools, too.”
“It would affect us tremendously,” Glenda White, administrator at the Spur Clinic, told the Texas Spur on Tuesday morning.
White said that the clinic makes between $1,000 and $2,000 from the nursing home on any given month.
“I don’t know what we’ll do,” White said. “We’ll have to make it up somewhere.”
White is also concerned about the domino effect closing the nursing home would have on the community.
“It would be a chain reaction,” said White. “And, the residents and their families are also affected.”
Also taking a direct hit if the nursing home is closed is Dana’s Pharmacy in Spur. Dana Tilton, owner of the pharmacy, says she would lose about 20 patients if the nursing home closes.
“This will hurt my business,” said Tilton, “and, if the employees (at the nursing home) leave, it will hurt my business, because they do business with me, too.”
“This county can’t afford to lose anything we have,” Tilton said. “We can’t get people to retire here if we don’t have health care options.”
The nursing home, the clinic and the pharmacy also bring in money from patients including payments from Medicare, Medicade, hospice, applied income, and private pay insurance. So health care also provides income which comes into those businesses and the community.
The caregivers of patients who reside at the nursing home are very concerned about what will happen if the doors are closed on the facility. They worry about not being able to see and take care of their loved one on a regular basis.
“I would have to move my mother out of town,” Peggy Swaringen said Tuesday afternoon while visiting her mother at the nursing home. “My mother has Alzheimer’s. She is used to seeing me, and she knows me because I come every day.”
Louise Wright, whose husband has been a patient at the nursing home for almost four years, said she would have to move herself if she has to relocate her husband to a facility out of town.
“If I do that, I will be taking away the money I spend from Spur,” said Mrs. Wright.
Deanie Wellborn’s mother also lives at the nursing home, and, while Wellborn’s sister lives in Crosbyton, where they would probably move their mother, Wellborn says she would not be able to visit her mother as frequently there.
What concerns county officials most should they take on operations at the nursing home is how the county will pay for it. County taxpayers have the same concern.
“If the county resumes operations then the taxpayers need to know that it will take tax money to operate it,” Judge Arnold said.
“While there is tax money involved in keeping it in business, the nursing home keeps other money in town as well,” said Warren. “If you close the nursing home, the residents will have to be moved to other towns which will mean their money will be paid to other communities.”
“What will that do to the taxes?” asks Warren.

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