Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner’s announcement Friday that two long-term care centers will soon be back under the county’s control was cause for celebration on Monday at the Frederick County Commission on Aging’s meeting.
Commission members and guests said they were excited to see Gardner come through with her campaign promise to have the county retain the centers, Citizens Rehabilitation Care and Odyssey Assisted Living at Montevue. Cindy Powell, a resident who has helped lead opposition to the sale of the centers, told the group that the advocacy work is not over.
“Now, the hard work really begins,” Powell said.
Both the commission and the resident group Save Citizens and Montevue need to continue working with Gardner, Powell said, to make the best use of the centers and provide the best situation for the people living there.
“It is about the residents who are there and maximizing the potential that is there,” she said.
Gardner announced Friday that Aurora Holdings VII, the company running the centers, came to a comprehensive resolution with the county through mediation that will let the county retain ownership. The previous Board of County Commissioners had agreed in contracts to sell the centers’ operations and land to Aurora. The centers have historically been operated by the county, which provided subsidies to residents in need.
Gardner said Friday that more details will be announced in 30 days, when the agreement is final, and the management of the centers will not change for about a year.
Gardner choked up during her announcement when thanking the residents who fought to keep the centers.
“It is citizens who stepped to the plate to fight for Citizens and Montevue,” she said. “People reached into their pockets and tried to give it their best to try to take care of people in need.”
Former County Commissioners President Blaine Young, who signed the contracts to sell the centers to Aurora, said Monday that he wasn’t surprised by the announcement, as the county forced Aurora to find a way out.
“When an individual or business owner feels the full weight of the government coming down on them, generally they are looking to make a deal or cut their deals and move on,” Young said. “It wasn’t something that Aurora signed up for, or anticipated — being battled every step of the way.”
Save Citizens and Montevue, a resident group that included some members of the board that previously oversaw the centers’ operations, challenged the commissioners’ decision in court and challenged the city Planning Commission’s decision to subdivide the centers’ land to make way for the sale. Gardner withheld a payment due to Aurora in May for the continuing care of residents in the center while mediation was in progress.
The last straw for Aurora was Gardner’s recent threat to take the company’s interests through eminent domain, Young said.
Mediation was “an exit strategy” for the company, he said.
Gardner said on Monday that she could not yet share if the county will seek an outside company to manage the centers.
It has always been the hope of the Commission on Aging and the resident board that the county will find a professional management company with experience running both nursing homes and assisted living centers to operate the centers, Powell said.
Save Citizens and Montevue will advocate for a more transparent process if the county selects a new management company, and for the creation of a citizen oversight board to review the company’s work, Powell said.
Gardner said she plans to set up a resident advisory board to keep residents involved.
Having the county retain the centers is an opportunity for a fresh look at the need for nursing home and assisted living services, said Carol Haag, chairwoman of the Commission on Aging.
The commission heard a briefing at the meeting about the people served in nursing home and assisted living centers, such as young people, those with substance abuse problems or disabilities, and older people with mental health problems. The county can look at what the entire population needs, Haag said.
By owning both centers and having the citizen board, the county can find a way to make money from the nursing home services at Citizens to subsidize care for low-income assisted-living residents at Montevue, Powell said.
“So the end resolution is you have a community-based operation that looks at not only how we are doing and how we can help,” Powell said.
But Young said Gardner’s decision once again puts taxpayer dollars at risk. The commissioners sold the centers because they were losing millions of taxpayer dollars each year — a total of $43 million in 13 years.
“All I can say is there has been a lot of lip service over the years about the changes that were going to be made, but ultimately it’s the taxpayers that are on the hook,” he said.
Young said he doesn’t think the public wants the county involved. The county should focus on providing core services first, and operating long-term care centers is not a core service, he said.
Gardner’s decision was purely political, as she knows that her stance on this issue helped her get elected and can help her get re-elected, Young said.
“She wants to keep them in good graces,” he said. “That’s Politics 101.”
Gardner said the commissioners made a bad deal with Aurora, costing taxpayers millions. She said she hopes to reveal more soon about just how much the deal cost the county.
“When people see just how bad a deal it was, people will be stunned,” she said.