Rescue plan eyed for Wicomico Nursing Home

County Administrative Director Wayne Strausburg is putting to rest rumors the highly rated Wicomico Nursing Home will shut down.

“We will not be closing the nursing home. We are not considering closing it,” Strausburg said during a recent interview.

Employees, speaking at the past few County Council meetings, have said they’re worried about losing jobs and benefits, but he said county officials will “do everything we can to minimize that concern.”

“I understand that angst,” he said, but downsizing would most likely be through attrition and “nothing draconian.”

He planned to meet with employees this week.

An earlier meeting was canceled because Strausburg was sick with pneumonia.

He said he wants to have ample answers ready because “If all bases aren’t covered, you can create more anxiety than you relieve.”

“What we’re focused on is getting the nursing home back to fiscal solvency. We’re trying to make as many decisions as we can, so we have a clear vision of where we’re going,” he said.

He has been meeting with Coastal Hospice officials, who believe they can sustain 10 additional beds at the Booth Street facility, increasing the population.

To be decided is if the county will continue operating the nursing home and hire a licensed administrator, as required by the state, or obtain a professional management company.

“We will not allow the grade or quality of this nursing home to fall,” he said.

The 102-bed care facility is rated an admirable 4.5 of a possible 5 points, so if a management company is chosen, it will have to prove past successes.

The nursing home, one of two in Maryland operated by the county where it is located, was acquired by Wicomico County in 1972. The other is in Frederick County.

“The folks here often don’t have the money for private care, so the majority of them use their Medicare and Medicaid benefits” Strausburg said, but funds don’t always cover operating costs.

“If we are efficient, with 80 beds we can make it. There had been about 70 percent occupancy, of 10 beds below. Now, we have 80 beds.

“In the past, we never had hospice beds but we have been having meetings with Coastal Hospice and Coastal Hospice feels they can keep 10 beds and that would make us solvent,” Strausburg said.

Improvements are planned, including replacing air conditioning units in each room, installing a new boiler and sprucing up common areas at a cost of about $500,000, in addition to $400,000 already spent.

Money for improvements was in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan last year.

County leaders will also focus on renewed communication with area hospitals and health care providers, who recommend nursing facilities to patients.

“I’m not going to say selling the nursing home is out of the question, but that is not our plan now,” Strausburg said.

At recent County Council meetings, a woman who identified herself as “Dr. Mason” asked to see the interim director’s resume.

Strausburg said if an administrator resigns, under state law the director of nursing can become the administrator for 30 days, after which the position can be renewed for an additional 30 days.

Strausburg said he meets with the interim director weekly and will take necessary steps to find a permanent director.

Nursing home employee Letitia Ballard called for more information.

“If we’re sold, if you sell, there’s people who have been there 30 years. What do you do with your sick time, your vacation time, your pension? Put us at ease.

“You bust your behind and do everything you’re supposed to do and continue to do the best that you’re supposed to be, because that’s your job.

“They say ‘change,’ but change is not always for good. People in the community are talking. It’s just frustrating,” she said.

Ballard said County Executive Bob Culver told nursing home staff they need a management group.

“We have no idea where we’re going. What is a management group? Does that mean you are going to sell? The fear of the unknown. Everybody is just concerned,” she said.

Strausburg explained Culver was referring to a company that specializes in maintaining nursing homes.

“It’s very specialized. That environment is highly regulated. We could hire a management company to manage the facility, but the county would have oversight. We haven’t made that decision yet,” Strausburg said.

Ballard said employees “show compassion, (and) that’s what keeps the residents there.”

“I love hearing from the other people in the community that we are wonderful. I think we need to know what is happening. People’s livelihood is at stake. We need to know out of respect.

“We love our residents. We love our job. That’s why we do the best that we can. We care. We care at the Wicomico Nursing Home,” Ballard said.

Katrina Purnell was adamant the nursing home not close.

“If you’re going to float a bond, float a bond to cover yourself because the Wicomico Nursing Home needs to be kept solvent,” she said.

Former Salisbury City Councilwoman Shanie Shields, suggested the county apply for a USDA nursing home grant.

Donnie Waters called the nursing home “a beacon of light and hope for individuals who have aged at the unproductive years of life and need care.”

“Any catastrophic health situation can happen to anybody of any age and you can end up in a nursing home,” he said, adding it’s nice knowing there is a place where loved ones receive proper care.

Taxpayers, he said, have “given money into the tax coffers.”

“They have given money into the general fund. They have given money and it’s time for the community to rally around and be sure they get the services they need.

“Please give consideration to the people that started the Wicomico County Nursing Home and see if they would be interested in serving. We have all kinds of talented individuals in our community willing to serve,” Waters said.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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