HOLLIDAYSBURG - After almost six decades of operating Valley View Home, Blair County leaders said Tuesday that they will consider selling the facility, drawing immediate criticism from representatives of the home's 289 employees.
Commissioners voted Tuesday to ask the Chicago real estate investment firm of Marcus & Millichap to calculate the home's potential value, at no cost to the county. It's the first step toward what could lead to advertising for offers on the 240-bed facility.
"It's a consideration and nothing is carved in stone," Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. said. "We're just going to proceed to see what Valley View is worth."
While the home currently carries a debt of $8.98 million, which includes $3.5 million owed to the county for prior payment of employee benefits, Marcus & Millichap Senior Associate Joshua Jandris said he believes the home's value and potential bids will exceed that.
"Nursing homes are extremely valuable assets," Jandris said. "Based on size, occupancy, their revenue, their potential revenue ... I think we will get a price that satisfies that debt."
Commissioners informed union leaders Tuesday morning, before starting their weekly meeting, of the pending vote. Their action generated tears among employees worried about how the sale will affect the care of residents and their jobs.
"Valley View is more than just a business to sell," nurse's aide and Service Employees International Union Healthcare leader Dawn Futrell said.
"We care for the most vulnerable, the sickest of the sick, the poorest of the poor," said Sharon Pope, a certified nursing assistant for 11 years. "What happens to them when it stops being about care and starts being about making money?"
Commissioners Chairman Terry Tomassetti said a lot has changed since 1954 when the county opened Valley View Home to care for elderly and disabled residents.
"We now see here in Blair County a large number of quality private sector skilled nursing facilities available to meet the needs of our residents," Tomassetti said.
Commissioner Diane Meling said the home's financial picture has improved in the last four years, another reason to consider this option.
"When times are good, that's when you make a sale," Meling said, "perhaps one that would lead to improvements at the home."
"We feel slighted," Futrell said. "Year after year, we've hung in there, giving concessions, agreeing to pay freezes ... with the goal of getting the home out of the red. All for this."
SEIU Healthcare representative Matthew Yarnell said he will monitor the commissioners' actions related to the sale and look for information to influence how they vote.
Jandris said commissioners can impose requirements as part of a sale to maintain current care of residents and percentage of beds for Medicaid recipients as well as address employment of current employees.
Yarnell offered doubts about such efforts, based on Cambria County's 2010 sale of Laurel Crest Rehabilitation & Special Care Center, which led to a strike and a lawsuit against the county and Grane Healthcare, which bought the home and refused to recognize the union.