COURT HOUSE – Cape May County is seeking a private entity to take over the operation of the Crest Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center by the first of the year.
In a letter, dated Aug. 8, sent to the residents at the center, County Administrator Kevin Lare assured residents there would be no drop in the level of care they were currently receiving. He also said there would be a “seamless transition” between the county’s operation and the successful bidder to run the county facility.
The county expects to begin the transition in fall 2023, with the new entity taking the full operation by Jan. 1, 2024.
County legal counsel Jeff Lindsay said the county has been looking at making the change for over a year.
“This is something that was being talked about when Linda Thornton retired and they were looking for a new administrator,” Lindsay said.
Thornton retired in 2017.
The Board of County Commissioners moved the subject ahead, passing a resolution, Aug. 8, to authorize seeking requests for proposal for vendors to take over the operation of the nursing home and rehab services. Lindsay said the decision is not a purely financial one.
“The bottom line does come into play, but it’s not the driving factor,” Lindsay said.
The Crest Haven nursing home has been operating at a loss of several million dollars per year for a long time, he said. Despite operating in the red, the county kept the facility open because there was a need for a place for low-income elderly people to go in Cape May County, so they could remain near their loved ones.
However, as the number of elder care facilities has risen in Cape May County that take Medicaid, the need for a county-operated facility has diminished, Lindsay said. The willingness of private facilities to accept residents under Medicaid has encouraged the county to make the transition.
Lindsay added that Crest Haven has minimum staffing levels due to its inability to find nurses and health aides. He said over the last several years, the county has taken steps to try to hire more certified nursing assistants (CNAs), including starting a workshop at the One Stop Career Center.
According to an NJ.com article from 2022, nearly six in 10 nursing homes have a CNA shortage in New Jersey. Lindsay said the county has attempted to supplement the number of nursing aides by using private health care agencies.
Lindsay said the county has been hoping to transition residents to private home health care. The county dissolved its own home health care department around 2012. The county currently contracts for home health care through Cape Regional Medical Center and Bayada.
Lindsay said Crest Haven has the ability to accept up to 180 residents, but the number has hovered around 80 for “quite a while.” To cover the needs of those residents, the county has 126 employees in the nursing home. The expectation is that 32 of them will be able to transition over to other departments – mainly in clerical, maintenance, and housekeeping positions. The other roughly 90 employees are involved in direct care, dietary, administration, and so on.
Lindsay said certain employee titles have a “bumping right,” meaning if they have more time of employment with the county, they could bump an employee in another department with the same title but less time of employment.
Lindsay said the county is trying to minimize any impact on employees from the changeover and they are paying close attention to the roster of employees to see who might have bumping rights and who might be affected.
As of Aug. 15, the county had not received any proposals from potential vendors, but the hope is that a vendor would include a proposal that reflects absorbing the employees not retained by the county.
“We are trying to make sure both the residents and the employees are treated fairly,” Lindsay said.
In the meantime, he said, the county is attempting to find an experienced long-term health care operator. They would also like the successful vendor to provide health care and retirement plans for the employees.
Lindsay said there is already communication with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which is the largest union among county employees. He said there is a large number of Crest Haven employees who are AFSCME members and another group who are AFSCME eligible.
“We want to have an open dialogue with the union and we have included them in group meetings,” Lindsay said.
There have already been meetings during each of the county’s three shifts to attempt to provide information and answer any questions the employees might have, as well as dispel rumors. Lindsay said the union has a role in this process, and the county is legally obligated to cooperate with the union.
Proposals are due to be provided to the county by Sept. 13, after which the county would have a better idea of what the future will hold and what the vendor is planning to offer.
Contact the author, Christopher South, at email@example.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.