Frederick County reviewing three bids to buy senior-care facilities -- Gazette.Net


This story was updated on March 19, 2013.

Frederick County is one step closer to selling its nursing home and assisted-living facility for low-income senior citizens, in a move that still is being opposed by some advocates for older residents.

County officials and legal and financial experts are reviewing three of six companies that submitted bids to buy the facilities by the March 12 deadline.

The three nationwide firms with offices in Maryland include Aurora Healthcare Management, Millennium Management and NMS Healthcare.

“These are the three firms we felt were worth taking to the next level,” County Manager Lori Depies said in a media conference call on Tuesday.

The next steps will be visiting each firm, conducting interviews, assessing their patient care, talking to employees and analyzing their finances, Depies said.

The three companies already have visited the Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and the Montevue Assisted Living facility on Rosemont Avenue in Frederick, she said.

Depies said the negotiations with the three firms are confidential. Although she would not disclose how much each firm proposed, the requirement for each bid was a minimum of $27 million.

The proposals were submitted to Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services of Chicago, Ill., the licensed real estate broker handling the marketing and sale of the two facilities.

Under the agreement with the county, the investment broker will not get paid unless a bid is approved and a sale is completed, Depies said. The broker will get 2 percent of the sale price.

The Frederick Board of County Commissioners has said it wants to act quickly to either sell or lease the two homes because the county’s contract with LW Consulting Inc., the Harrisburg, Pa.-based firm that manages them, expires June 30, the last day of fiscal 2013.

But Depies said Tuesday that reviewing the three bids could take several months.

The committee composed of county staff and legal and financial experts will make its recommendation to the commissioners in a closed-session meeting. The commissioners then must hold a public hearing on the sale of the two homes.

“We’re definitely not there yet,” Depies said. “If we need to extend the June 30 contract deadline, we can.”

The commissioners want to turn over ownership of the facilities to a private company in an effort to stop paying a $5 million annual subsidy to operate the two homes.

The commissioners believe now is the best time to market the homes to potential buyers, because last July residents and staff moved into the new 40,000-square-foot assisted-living facility and 116,000-square-foot nursing home.

The construction was approved by the previous board, but the current five commissioners, who were elected in 2010, have favored privatization.

The county spent $30 million building the two new homes, which sit on land adjacent to the former buildings that were outdated, cramped and inefficient.

The five-member Frederick City Planning Commission voted 4-1 on March 11 to allow the Frederick County Division of Public Works to move into the old Montevue building, which has 53 employees.

But the county will be required to test the building for toxic chemicals because it is located near Fort Detrick’s Area B, a former dumping ground for cancer-causing agents.

In current fiscal 2013, the county is slated to spend $1.7 million to operate Citizens and another $2.5 million to run Montevue, for a total of $4.2 million.

Since 2000, the county has spent $53.5 million operating both homes, according to county figures.

Moving too fast?

But for some, the potential transfer of the two homes into private hands is happening too fast.

“A thorough, in-depth review will take time,” Sonja B. Sperlich, president of the nursing home and the assisted-living’s board of trustees, said in an e-mail. “I would expect that potential serious candidates would actually be site-visited. Nothing is final until there is a signed contract.”

The board of trustees has raised objections to the sale of the homes, charging that the housing, medical care and food for those low-income seniors would be jeopardized.

In particular, they are worried what will happen to the 60 beds in the 75-room Montevue Assisted Living facility that are reserved for low-income residents.

But Commissioners’ President Blaine. R. Young (R) has stressed that no resident from either facility would be put on the street by any proposal.

However, Sperlich remains unconvinced.

“In the interim, LW Consulting will continue to improve and strengthen this county-owned facility,” she said. “And, the board of trustees will continue to try to convince the BOCC that maintaining this facility for the benefit of Frederick County citizens is the best choice.”

Diane L. Grove, administrator at Montevue, said in a March 12 letter to the media that she is “ashamed” that the county would allow Montevue to be sold to a private-sector company.

“The land was sold to the county for the intent of helping the impoverished in perpetuity,” she said. “We should embrace this concept, not shy away. We should be proud that we are part of a community that looks out for some of our most vulnerable population, our seniors.”

In 1828, the county purchased 94 acres from Elias and Catherine Brunner for $5,313.75, which would one day be the site of the Montevue Assisted Living facility.

“The reality is if Montevue is sold and privatized, the mission of caring for our community as we know ... will be gone,” she said. “We will never get it back.”