County commissioners voted Tuesday night to sell the government-owned nursing home along with the assisted living center that has served needy local residents for about 140 years.
The decision to sell Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living was supported by four commissioners and opposed by Commissioner David Gray.
The same four commissioners also voted to abolish the Citizens board of trustees.
The decision followed about five hours of public comment from local residents, elder care experts and those who live at Citizens and Montevue.
“I ask you not to sell my home, but to give my home a chance to prove itself. To believe in the folks that run Montevue and give them a chance to prove it is a diamond in the rough,” said Lawrence Watson, 95, who was accompanied to the microphone by his two daughters and granddaughter.
The vast majority of hearing participants objected to selling the facilities, a fact highlighted by speaker Kermit Liebensperger, who asked privatization supporters to rise.
“Don’t be bashful. There must be someone,” he said after several moments of silence.
In response, about 10 people stood up in one corner of Frederick Community College’s Jack B. Kussmaul Theater, where the hearing was held.
When Liebensperger, a Montgomery County resident, asked sale opponents to stand, almost everyone in the room rose to their feet.
The 409-seat room was packed full at the beginning of the hearing, with some people forced to find places along the wall or on the theater stairs. During the hearing’s emotional three-minute speeches, crowd members clapped, cheered and shouted questions and challenges to commissioners. At one point, a woman demanded that commissioners refrain from checking their cellphones while members of the public were speaking.
A number of people said they feared selling the facilities would represent an abandonment of vulnerable seniors who can’t afford to live in private assisted living centers.
Citizens, a 170-bed nursing home, is intended to generate a surplus large enough to cover shortfalls at Montevue, which provides 60 subsidized beds to needy residents. However, for years, both centers have been losing money, and the county has spent an estimated $53 million since fiscal 2000 to prop up facility operations.
Providing such a large benefit to a handful of people is not fair, Commissioner Paul Smith wrote in a four-page statement explaining his support for selling the facilities. By selling the centers, the county could spread resources more evenly.
“(T)his sale will enable the county to fund expanded services to hundreds of needy seniors who are denied the special benefit of living at Montevue,” Smith wrote in the statement.
A few speakers agreed with the sale. One person said it is not the government’s job to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks.
“The responsibility of charity rests on our shoulders as individuals,” said Jason Laird, a Frederick resident. “We can’t shirk our responsibility by throwing it on the government.”
Laird said he believes many local taxpayers who bear the costs of Citizens and Montevue would back privatization, but they aren’t as motivated to show up for a public hearing as the vocal minority.
Another local man said in tough economic times, the government must cut costs to relieve taxpayers.
“We’ve lost money for an awfully long time now,” said Chris Ganley of Frederick. “Sell the facility.”
But many speakers said they would be willing to continue funding the centers and didn’t consider it a waste of resources.
“I think you’re the biggest waste of taxpayer money. Right here,” Nick Lewandowski, a Frederick resident, said to the commissioners seated on the stage in front of him.
A number of speakers noted that the $30 million sale price is less than the roughly $38 million cost of construction for the centers’ new state-of-the-art facility, which was completed last year. Many others asked commissioners allow Citizens and Montevue another couple of years to show they are financially viable.
The commissioners haven’t worked with the Citizens board of trustees to turn around the centers, some said.
“Instead, energy has been devoted to discussing the proposed buyers and formulating a fiscal analysis of the county’s savings through the sale,” said RaeAnn Butler, chairwoman of the Frederick County Commission on Aging.
Aurora Health Management representatives spoke at the hearing’s outset to say they look forward to becoming part of the Frederick County community.
Several members of the 10-person Citizens board of trustees also filed up to the microphone, touching on issues that ranged from financial to personal.
After the comments were concluded, Gray made a motion to table discussion of selling the facilities and wait until July 2014 before revisiting the idea of privatization. However, the motion died for lack of a second.
Commissioners on Tuesday night voted 4-1 in favor of developing a management contract with Aurora so the company can start running the centers before the closing date. Gray was the dissenting vote.
Officials have looked at four criteria as they weigh the future of the facilities, considering patient care, facility employees, subsidized residents at Montevue and the financial viability of a sale.
Aurora has agreed to offer employment to all the centers’ workers at their current wages and will provide a comparable benefits package. A separate agreement stipulates that the county will pay Aurora $10.7 million over a four-year period to continue caring for the 60 subsidized residents at the assisted living center. Future county boards also pay to devote a certain number of Montevue beds for the indigent.
With the $30 million purchase price offered by Aurora, the county will be able to pay off the bonds on the new Citizens and Montevue building and would see a cumulative surplus of $5.7 million over the next four years.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.
For more on Tuesday's hearing, visit www.fredericknewspost.com.