Proposals sought for Sunnyview nursing home sale

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After discussing it for the better part of a decade, Butler County is on track to privatize its nursing home.

Requests for proposals have been issued for the Sunnyview Home and are due Wednesday from parties interested in buying the facility.

The move has sparked outrage among residents, their families and workers.

Nonetheless, a majority of the three-member board of county commissioners appears to be in favor of putting the nursing home on the selling block. Voting in October in favor of seeking the proposalss were Chairman Bill McCarrier and Commissioner Dale Pinkerton. Commissioner James Eckstein is opposed.

The Chicago real estate firm of Markus & Milachap is assisting the county in marketing Sunnyview, and Mr. McCarrier said early word is that the facility is generating a lot of interest.

He said he and Mr. Pinkerton are in favor of divesting the county of the nursing home for a pair of reasons: The facility is not financially self-sufficient and neither likes the idea of competing with private enterprise.

With Sunnyview facing a million-dollar deficit for 2013, commissioners had asked union workers there to reopen their contract voluntarily to reduce costs so the home would break even. That request was rejected. Being sought were cuts in scheduled raises, increased contributions to medical benefits and work rule changes. The end result would have been a $1 million cut in costs.

Mr. McCarrier said county-owned nursing homes are going the way of the horse and buggy. "Throughout Pennsylvania, there used to be about 50 nursing homes. Half of them are gone now and some are for sale. The way to go is for-profit or faith-based enterprises. The fact is, if you're not big, you can't operate successfully in this [economic] climate," he said.

At public meetings, commissioners have been forced to face the opposition to privatizing, but Mr. McCarrier said there have been calls to his office expressing a sentiment that "we should have done this years ago."

Mr. McCarrier said he and Mr. Pinkerton believe that selling Sunnyview ultimately will save it. "I want to see it operating for years to come. I think the best way that will happen is to turn it over to a private enterprise that can make it profitable," he said. He added his belief that free-market economics will ensure that good care is provided. "A private company or a faith-based enterprise wouldn't be able to afford not to operate it well. People wouldn't go there if they didn't get good care."

State regulations will allow the county to choose among RFPs, according to legal advice the county has received. "We don't just have to sell to the highest bidder. We can do our research and pick and choose who we think would be best," Mr. McCarrier said.

There are about a dozen nursing homes in the county that are privately owned or are owned by faith-based organizations.

Sunnyview employs about 200 people. Mr. McCarrier said he believes most would be kept on because of their expertise; however, he said, he is against "tying the hands" of a potential buyer by making their jobs a package deal.

He anticipates the sale of the nursing home could come to fruition within five months.

The facility has 220 beds, the majority of which are occupied. "We normally run between 80 to 95 percent [occupancy]," Mr. McCarrier said.

Karen Kane: kkane@post-gazette.com or 724-772-9180.


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