SALISBURY – While the future of a county-owned nursing home remains uncertain, officials this week assured community members they would work toward a solution that preserves jobs and services.
On Tuesday, members of the community came before the Wicomico County Council once again to make their case for keeping the Wicomico Nursing Home under county ownership.
In December, the council agreed to loan the facility $489,320 to sustain operations through fiscal year 2019 after learning low occupancy, personnel costs and write offs of bad debt had affected the nursing home’s bottom line.
In doing so, county officials also agreed to explore capital improvements, personnel changes and privatization. By way of background, the county took ownership of the nursing home in 1972 when the nonprofit corporation charged with operating the facility ran into financial difficulty.
County resident Geri Mason said she and many others were blindsided by news of the facility’s struggles. She noted the nursing home was a pillar in the community and one of the top facilities in the area.
“I’m proud of its accomplishments and support from the community thus far,” she said. “But if you don’t know something, and things are hidden from you …, then there is nothing the community can do.”
Mason called on county leaders to work with community stakeholders to keep Wicomico Nursing Home in the public sector.
“By privatizing the nursing home, all we are doing is shipping the responsibility of repairs and updates to a private company,” she said, adding that the company would prioritize profits over patient care.
Mary Ashanti, president of Wicomico County NAACP, agreed.
“I think working together we can resolve the issue,” she said.
Council President John Cannon said he recognized residents’ concerns.
“The council is very much aware of the community’s concerns on the nursing home,” he said, “and we want to make sure that we do tread very lightly as we review this.”
Cannon gave his reasons for withholding information on the Wicomico Nursing Home.
“We try to avoid discussing it in full detail until it is absolutely necessary, not because we want to hide the facts and figures, but simply to avoid any type of panic in the community as to what may be happening,” he said. “That being said we do recognize the fact that there are concerns financially with the nursing home.”
If the county decided to privatize the facility, Cannon said job retention and care would remain paramount.
“If the nursing home were to be sold to a private company we would want to make sure those insurances are maintained …,” he said. “We are carefully trying to weigh that, trying to balance the pros and cons and whatthe true sustainability is to the taxpayers of Wicomico County.”
Cannon added the community’s comments would help officials in the decision-making process.
“Every time someone comes to the podium and shares their concerns it does shed a new light on what some of the issues are on a personal level,” he said.
The council and administrative staff on Tuesday also agreed to arrange a tour of the Wicomico Nursing Home at a later date to speak with residents and staff.