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Commissioners approve closure of care center

Streamers decorated the dining area at the Monroe County Care Center Tuesday, June 11.

Festive plates sat in front of each person, but it didn’t seem like a festive occasion.

Care center employees decided to go forward with a baby shower for Administrator Jessica Price despite the news they received only hours earlier – that the day before, Monday, June 10, the Monroe County Commissioners passed a motion by a 2-1 vote to close the care center.

“It was kind of them (the care center employees) to still do that (hold a baby shower for me) and to sit there with smiles on their faces,” Price said. “This speaks volumes about the people that work here. I was blessed to be part of their team.”

The party was a brief respite between difficult meetings with residents and their family members and care center employees.

Price was on a conference call with the commissioners when they announced their decision Monday, June 10. She requested the opportunity to provide notice of the closure to her employees and residence Tuesday, June 11, as it was late in the workday when the decision was reached.

The commissioners agreed, giving her the evening to come up with a way to break the news to her residents and staff.

“I cried all night,” Price said. “I prayed for the right words to say.”

The evening of Monday, June 10 was rough, but Tuesday, June 11 was likely worse.

Price described it as “horrendous.”
Most of the day she had to struggle with seeing the looks of disappointment of the faces of the staff, residents and their family members.

“I have to tell them their home is gone or their income is gone,” Price said.

Price was shocked by the commissioners’ decision, which came after meetings with the Care Center Committee, an informal group of advisors who hoped to save the care center, and Robert Burlenski, of the Ohio Auditor of State’s Local Government Services Division, who met with the commissioners to discuss the challenges of operating under fiscal distress.

According to the transcript of the minutes from the June 10 meeting, Commissioner Tim Price requested Jessica Price be contacted to inform her about the details of the meetings prior in the day and because he “intended to make a motion regarding the care center and he did not want to do that if (Jessica) Price was not present or at least party to the discussion.”

Through their discussions with the Care Center Committee and Burlenski, the prospect of borrowing money was presented as an option for finding the funding needed to keep the care center in operation. However, Tim Price did not feel that borrowing money was the answer as it was “still debt that we (the county) are shouldering and has be repaid at some point.”

With that, Tim Price informed Jessica Price that he was prepared to make a motion to close the care center.

Tim Price informed Jessica Price that he wished she “been able to come on board a year or two ago.” While Jessica Price made good progress in the short term, “it’s a matter of the Board of Commissioners having a greater responsibility, in the sense of county finances.”

Tim Price went on to explain that his decision was not made to minimize the concern for the residents at the care center.

He followed by making a motion to close the care center by giving Jessica Price authorization to provide whatever notice required by Ohio Revised Code. Tim Price cited “the increasingly difficult financial situation at the Monroe County Care Center and the impact it has had, and continues to have, on county finances.”

Since the care center lost its decertification in December of 2015, the county has provided more than $6.6 million in advances to the facility.

The burden of keeping the care center operational deeply cut into the county’s financial stability, limiting unappropriated funds to close to $150,000 for the remainder of the year.

Various public officials, such as Monroe County Auditor Pandora Neuhart and Monroe County Treasurer Taylor Abbott have voiced their concerns regarding the care center and its high costs at different times since the facility was decertified.

According to the minutes from the June 10 meeting, Commissioner Carl Davis seconded the motion, saying, “this has to be the most difficult decision we’ve been asked to make.”

Davis felt that, after meeting with Burlenski and hearing about the gravity of fiscal distress, “he doesn’t see how we can take any more debt on behalf of the county.

“(I don’t) know what else to do,” Davis added. “We are at the point where there is no money, short of borrowing.”

Commissioner Mick Schumacher was against the motion, stressing the closure will cause further debt as Ohio Revised Code requires the facility to county to provide a 60-day notice. In addition to the cost of operating the care center for those 60 days, Schumacher pointed out unemployment for county employees who will be without a job and buying out vacation time. Schumacher predicted the closure “will put (the county) in fiscal watch.”

Tim Price told Schumacher he understood those concerns, saying, “we are going to find a way to make payroll and whatever else during that 60-day period.”

With no more discussion, a vote was taken with Tim Price and Davis approving the motion and Schumacher voting against it.

Jessica Price told the commissioners she understood their decision, saying, “money is being collected, but it is not in the time frame the commissioners are looking for.”

Despite being stunned by the decision, less than a day later, Jessica Price was busy coming up with a plan for the future of her residents.

“The main thing is reaching out to area facilities and seeing what they have to offer,” Jessica Price said, “seeing what openings they have.”

Her plan was to put each department head in charge of a certain amount of residents, then allowing them to sit down and inform those residents about their options. She planned to meet with her department heads daily to stay on top of the situation and scheduled a family meeting for residents and their family members for Wednesday, June 12.

Jessica Price stressed it would not be an easy process, contrary to posts she has read on social media.

“(People) think it is going to be an easy transition, but that’s not necessarily an option,” Jessica Price said. “We have a lot of Medicaid-waiver customers. Not every (facility) will take them. We have a dementia unit that is full. What do we do with them? We’ve called other facilities and there is a waiting list.”

Jessica Price readily admitted that Day 1 after the commissioners’ decision was “really hard.”

“I’ve had multiple people in here (my office) crying,” she said. “It’s hard. They are devastated. I cry with them and hold them. I tell them I will do whatever I can to find them a good home.”

There is potential for further news to develop on this story, as the commissioners scheduled a special meeting at 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 12.

Monroe County Beacon

103 East Court Street,
Woodsfield, OH 43793