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Sunday, July 21, 2024

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Freeholders Approve Five-Year Pact for Private Home Health Care

 

By Al Campbell

CREST HAVEN — Home healthcare services, long provided by Cape May County for about 125 residents, will be privatized for the next five years to Cape Regional Medical Center and Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey.
Freeholder Gerald Thornton, who oversees county human services, reluctantly offered the resolution at the May 11 freeholders’ meeting, and voted for it, as did the rest of the board; yet he remained steadfast, “”I didn’t think we should have gotten out of the home health business.”
While the agency was “building” for the past two to three years, he said, and money was appropriated for staff, “I wasn’t allowed to use it to replace or increase staff,” he said.
Lacking an executive director or director of nursing, the certificate, which allowed the county to operate the service, was “jeopardized,” said Thornton. The county recently contracted with Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey to provide those administrative services.
“The state came in and found us in non-compliance,” he added. Loss of that license would have placed the approximately 125 patients at risk, said Thornton.
“I thought at the time it was not the proper action to take, but I was told it was the opinion of the majority of the board,” he continued.
The five-year agreement is “the best option available now to protect the residents and the patients we have in the county. I insisted we had an obligation to do charity and Medicaid care. Those residents will be protected. These agencies are in agreement,” to provide those services to the poor and uninsured, he said.
Second, said Thornton, was his concern for the roughly 13 employees in the division. He said Visiting Nurse Association said it would “try to absorb as many (employees) as possible, and that was also helpful.”
“I really believe we should have made a greater effort to make this (home healthcare) work. I do understand the county is financially stressed, but I think there are other areas that could have been addressed and this saved,” said Thornton. “That is why I offered this resolution tonight.”
Richard Colosi, a member of the Cape May County Executive Board of Local 3596, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) addressed the board prior to passage of the resolution.
“I am very deeply saddened by this course of action,” said Colosi, who represented most of the affected employees in the division.
He likened the action to the county “releasing a stepping stone to selling a very valuable asset regarding home health care that was provided for many years and done well.”
“In our opinion, this resource has been, in most cases, squandered with regard to proper management,” Colosi continued. “If managed properly this could have been a significant asset with significant income to the county.” Additionally, it could have “provided income to reduce the tax burden to many in the county,” he said.
He said the union had attempted many times to discuss ways to make the home health division run efficiently. “Those petitions fell on deaf ears and we got little cooperation,” said Colosi.
“We are saddened by this,” he added.
Last year, said Director Daniel Beyel, the budgeted wages for the division were up $250,000, and the board put additional resources into the department.
According to Beyel, “We will find out next year the year round population is declining in the area of senior citizens.”
He said the number of senior citizens is declining, and new seniors cannot move afford to move into the county because of the high cost of real estate.
Further, he said, there are “less births, less children being born in Cape May County.” He said there was a 17 percent drop in the number of year-round residents.
Thornton said, “Contrary to what you are saying that the population is down, it’s decreased because young families are moving out, but the number of senior citizens and those moving in is increasing.”
Thornton said the caseload of home health workers “almost doubled and revenue increased significantly.”
“I will continue to argue that if the financial investment would have been made, we would have had a self-sufficient agency, but the commitment made was withdrawn at a very critical time when the agency started to flourish,” said Thornton. He added that the agency could have generated $300,000 to $400,000 in physical therapy.

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