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C-TH turns care center over to employees

by Sharon Carter

On the basis of a fairly successful track record and testimonials from people who have family residing at the nursing home, Carson-Tahoe Hospital officials Thursday approved an agreement to turn over the operations of Valley Meadows Care Center to an employee-owned corporation.

More than 30 of the Gardnerville Ranchos center’s 104 employees, some carrying small children, applauded and some wept in relief when the unanimous vote was taken.

“It looks like Mommy still has a job,” Certified Nursing Assistant Vicki Dalton told her two-year-old son, Brandon, as she smiled through her tears.

That same relief was evident in many of their faces as the employees exited the crowded Health Education room at the Carson City hospital.

Many, fearing discussions and a vote could occur earlier, had arrived before 6 p.m. Although the item had an approximate start time of 7:15, trustees got around to the subject at 8 p.m. and the vote was taken at 9 p.m.

Gennie Brakebill, a CNA who works in medical records and acts as the residential photographer at care center’s social events, said she was very pleased with the outcome.

“We’re all family at Valley Meadows, the residents and the employees. If they (C-TH officials) closed it, it would have torn our family apart,” Brakebill said.

n The only offer. Central to the issue was the publicly-owned hospital’s desire to cut its losses in the Carson Valley nursing home, which officials estimate could go as high as $5 million for the 4-1/2 years the hospital or its lessees have run the operation. Trustees said they planned to be completely out of the long-term care business by June 30. After months of trying to sell the operation without success, officials directed hospital administrators to develop a timeline for closing the 110-bed facility.

The employees’ offer was the only proposal to come forward as the deadline to start closing the center and moving patients approached.

Hospital trustees were initially skeptical of the plan, which partnered the care center employees with the facility’s landlord, PDQ Investments.

“How are they going to do what we couldn’t?” Carson City Supervisor and Liaison Trustee Pete Livermore asked.

“It looks like the facility lost $17,000 in March. Who or what isn’t getting paid?” Trustee Caleb Mills said. “It seems like there will be losses all the way around.”

n Success breeds confidence. Jamie Filbin, Valley Meadows assistant administrator, said the proof was that the employees had successfully operated the facility since it had gone into receivership last Oct. 23. Since that time, as per its contract, the hospital has continued to pay the facility’s rent.

“When we took over, there was $197 in petty cash – the former manager had emptied all the accounts. Now we have $200,000 on hand and some CDs (certificates of deposit), with $30,000 to $40,000 in payables (bills due),” Filbin said. “We’ve never asked for a dime from the Board of Trustees of Carson-Tahoe Hospital. We’ve only gotten the rent paid (for us). The proof is that we’ve been doing it and kept the quality of care up.”

Under its present administration, Valley Meadows, formerly the Cottonwood Care Center, passed rigorous state and federal licensing inspections a year ago, earning its highest scores ever. And, according to state licensing officials, the center has maintained its quality of care throughout the past year.

The record contrasts with that of the facility when the hospital operated it. Lawsuits, staffing shortages and poor inspections dogged C-TH’s foray into the nursing home business, at one point resulting in state-imposed fines of $3,000 per day and a ban on new admissions.

n Deal hinges on court, state. The hospital’s agreement with employee-landlord partnership is contingent upon the new operator, Valley Meadows Living Center Inc., being licensed by the state and the transfer being approved by District Judge Michael Fondi.

Valley Meadows Administrator Jim Heinzen said he foresees no licensing difficulties and said the group has assurances the application will be fast-tracked through the system.

Under the agreement, the hospital will turn over about $890,000 in assets, receivables and equipment to the new operators. If the venture is successful, the employees have agreed to repay the hospital 10 percent of their profits until the money is repaid.

Major rent concessions from PDQ Investments, which owns the facility’s real property, were significant to the hospital board’s decision.

PDQ managing partner and former Douglas County Commissioner David Pumphrey assured hospital officials his group would not hold C-TH to its contractual rent obligations beyond May 28, when the employee operators are scheduled to have their approvals in place and officially assume operations.

The agreement does not preclude the new operators from selling the nursing home in the future.