The saga over who is going to run, control, and pay for the two senior care facilities that until 2014 were long under the county’s administration, now appears to be over.
On May 12, the county government and Aurora Holdings VII — the company that had purchased the two centers in 2014, agreed to a lengthy settlement, about 500 pages, that in 18 months’ time will return the Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center, and Montevue Assisted Living facility, to the county government.
The county will pay Aurora $5.5 million at closing — but that is money the county withheld from Aurora, and put in escrow after County Executive Jan Gardner, elected in 2014, challenged the original sale agreement. No new money there. The county will pay an additional $2.35 million to Aurora as long as Aurora meets certain performance conditions in its final 18 months of management — among which are guaranteeing the county an annual profit of $2.5 million. So the total out-of-pocket cost of the deal is $7.85 million, plus $388,000 in legal fees spent on the case since Gardner took office (the prior government spent $414,000 on the case), plus $32,000 in mediator fees.
This settlement arises out of several months of mediation, which began with Gardner threatening Aurora with the heavy hammer of eminent domain, in which the government can seize private property for just compensation. She backed up the threat with $800,000 set aside by the County Council. If you’re going to make a threat like that one, you had better be prepared to back it up, and the council vote approving the set-aside did just that. Well played, Jan.
And so will end a three-year ideological and political battle — and one that greatly destabilized the lives of about 250 poor and elderly people living in the two facilities. The fight began under the prior form of county government — the Board of County Commissioners. It was that Blaine Young-led board that moved to privatize the two facilities in 2014 when the paint had barely dried on the two new buildings that the county government had just built for its senior citizens on Rosemont Avenue in Frederick.
The conservatives on the prior board said that county government had no business being in the nursing home business and that it was too costly to do so. But they went up against popular opinion, expressed vociferously and ignored steadfastly, that the county had a commitment to its indigent seniors that it had performed admirably for more than a century and a half and that was tied to the original deed that Elias Brunner used to give the land on which the two facilities sit to the county back in 1828.
That deed was clear: The parcel was to be used “for the benefit of the poor of said county, and to and for no other use, intent or purpose whatsoever.”
In concluding the agreement, Gardner fulfilled a campaign promise. And in a larger sense, Frederick County honored something that makes it unique. The county does look after its own who are in need — not just via government agencies and programs but through countless local charities and churches and nonprofit groups that come together to help the homeless, the disabled, the mentally ill, the addicted, the young, the old, the desperate.
Yet Frederick does this without being too much a nanny state or nanny county. Much of it is done privately. Some is done through innovative public-private partnerships. But all of it is done with generosity of spirit and true dedication to helping people. The profit motive doesn’t play much into it, nor does ideology, or politics. It was these higher values that the former Board of County Commissioners didn’t follow, didn’t listen to, and indeed ran roughshod over.
And they paid the price, didn’t they?