Think I’ve been unfair to the commissioners on Pocopson? Read ALL the blog posts and you decide

The following definitions come courtesy of Webster:

TRANSPARENCY: free from pretense or deceit; easily detected or seen through; characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.

OPINION: a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter.

When it comes to the Pocopson Home, Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello and his fellow commissioners Terence Farrell and Kathi Cozzone have fulfilled their obligations when it comes to being transparent in terms of having public meetings concerning the future of the Pocopson Home. Good for them. They promised the meetings and they have kept up their end of the bargain. And I applaud them for that.

But…

But just because they have had public meetings doesn’t mean in their own minds they haven’t formed an opinion concerning the future of the facility. Proof? Cozzone says she has personally ruled out the outright sale of the property to a private contractor.

So if Cozzone has formed an opinion to a certain degree why would it be impossible for the other two to have done the same?

Well, Ryan Costello doesn’t think it’s possible. And a blog post yesterday seemed to have touched a nerve with the commissioner. He called WCHE this morning to take me to task for writing my OPINION in that very blog post.

In his best lawyer-like approach he accused me of being irresponsible, etc., for expressing my OPINION in my blogs concerning the Pocopson Home. We went back and forth talking over one another which was pretty lame but that’s OK, we’ve agreed to do it in a more civil manner one day next week.

Here’s what I need our readers and the commissioners – especially Commissioner Costello – to understand.

What I write in a blog post is an OPINION. It’s written from a point of view that I have talked to people, that sort of thing, and have come to a gut feeling, a sense of what is to come, an OPINION.

Now Commissioner Costello accused me of having an axe to grind with him, etc., which couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I’m sure that we at least like the same kind of music. I’m pretty certain that it was Ryan Costello leaving the Tower Theater back in May after a Hall and Oates concert. (Gotta be careful, you never know where I may turn up…) Maybe it was him, maybe not but I’m pretty sure it was…

In the interest of being fair, I have included all of the blog posts on the topic of the Pocopson Home below. You be the judges and read them all. I don’t see where I was irresponsible in any of them. I may have expressed an OPINION that differs from the commissioner or commissioners. But as any good lawyer will tell you, that’s what makes America such a great place. You can feel free to express an OPINION without fear.

And Commissioner Costello is right when I earlier said it was possibly prudent to set a timetable to make a decision. To qualify that, however, that would make sense if all of the information was in the hands of the county commissioners. To my knowledge that hasn’t happened yet. So yesterday’s blog was a flip-flop on my part in only the sense that until the complete reports are in, the commissioners — in my OPINION — shouldn’t make a decision. When the reports are in then of course set a timetable for the decision.

For the record, I have no beef with any of the commissioners. Theirs are tough jobs to do. However, when it comes to some topics I have strong OPINIONS that I share as part of doing this job. And when you’re an elected official you need to understand that and not be overly sensitive when a member of the media calls you out on something. It comes with the job. You can disagree with me or anyone else here at the newspaper. But it doesn’t change the fact that we have our OPINIONS and we will share them.

So have fun reading all of the previous posts and please comment where you may think I’ve been unfair. I am open to the criticism. I have been doing this job a long time so I can take it. I won’t yell or scream or stomp my feet. And if there is someone who doesn’t believe that just take a look at any of the comments on my blog. There have been some that are highly critical of my point of view. And that’s OK. It’s what this country is all about.

And I apologize in advance for being someone who fights for what I believe in. I have strong OPINIONS and I’m not afraid to express them.

—-

This is the beginning of a story by Daily Local News reporter Michael Rellahan concerning the Pocopson Home…

The Chester County commissioners said Wednesday they anticipate a decision on the future ownership and operational role of the county in Pocopson Home will come before the end of 2012.

But what that decision will be is still up in the air, the trio said in response to questions following their morning work session.

 The commissioners are waiting for the results of a study outlining how they could transfer the long-term care facility to a non-profit corporation that would run the day-to-day operations there but overseen by the county, and an analysis on the possibility of bringing in new revenue at the facility by offering additional services

”I think we need to have all the facts before us before we can make a decision,” said commissioners Chairman Terence Farrell.

Here’s a link to the whole story: http://bit.ly/QLL06F

OK, very simply what is the rush? Why does this decision have to be made by the end of the year? It’s mid-September and the study results are not yet known. Those results are needed and then more public sessions are promised.

I am guessing it’s a question of the budget but why not budget the money for the improvements needed and then at least the money is there? If the decision means no need for the budgeted amount then so be it. Or maybe it doesn’t work that way.

If there is one saving grace it’s the statement from Vice Chairwoman Kathi Cozzone who said she had personally ruled out the outright sale of the property to a private contractor.

“For me, it is not an option,” Cozzone said. “We heard from a lot of our constituents, not just this year but also in the past” about what should be done at Pocopson, she said, including three hearings the commissioners sponsored this spring. “I believe we can find a way to significantly reduce or eliminate the county’s subsidy (of the facility), but do think that it is a service we need to provide.”

Well at least there’s one voice of reason.

My beef earlier this year was that it seemed to me that at least one of the commissioners was just looking to dump what they felt was a “white elephant.” The appearance was that the obligation to our older, maybe less fortunate residents of Chester County didn’t exist.

And that’s dead wrong. These people paid their share of taxes over the years and the county needs to continue to do its part when it comes to this kind of service. Period.

My feeling is that there’s no rush. If the county wants to make huge changes in terms of the operations and processes then don’t rush it. Take good time and do it right the first time. The worst thing would be to hastily make a choice that affects hundreds of people – and then regret it later.

There are a lot of older people at Pocopson who are counting on the county leadership to do them right. They are feeling nervous waiting to see the outcome of this saga.

Please, please don’t disappoint them.

Do the right thing. Do it in good time. Make the good decision the first time. It’s easier to do it the right way once then to try and fix a huge mistake.

 

—-

No one doubts that the Chester County commissioners are doing their best to cut costs. After all, the matter of cost cutting is going on everywhere. Businesses, families, governments.

I suppose the real question at this point is why the commissioners don’t get it that it seems like its citizens don’t want the county government to mess with how things are run at the Pocopson Home.

Sure, it costs the county money to operate the Pocopson Home. But as one resident put it at a meeting Tuesday night in Oxford, we don’t see much effort being put into reducing costs at the county’s prison and that bill is hovering around the $22 or $23 million mark.

Daily Local reporter Shawn Weigel attended the Tuesday night Oxford meeting. More than 100 people showed up to voice their opposition to any potential changes at Pocopson.

According to his story, resident Brian D’Andrea of Parkesburg called the decision to explore selling, leasing or relinquishing full control of the home distasteful. He asked the commissioners why similar meetings aren’t being held for the Chester County Prison.

“The largest black hole in this county is the prison,” he said. “Talk about sucking money off from everybody in this room.”

Commissioners ‘ Chairman Terence Farrell said the prison costs about $22 million in tax dollars annually to run, but public safety is of utmost importance and the main reason the county continues to maintain the facility.

D’Andrea said that suggests the commissioners were choosing prisoners over the elderly. “That’s basically what you’re telling me,” he said.

Commissioner Ryan Costello called the remark a “cheap shot” and said he would listen to any suggestions to cut prison costs.

Um, isn’t that the job of the commissioners? Why is it that we have a company analyzing the Pocopson Home and its operation handing out recommendations but we don’t – or at least we haven’t heard – of a similar effort for the prison?

The commissioners have held two similar meetings in May, when medical management company Premier Health Resources offered a variety of options for the 60-plus-year-old Pocopson Home.

Those options include selling, leasing or changing the home’s designation to a 501-3(C) nonprofit organization.

The commissioners have gotten an earful from hundreds of people who oppose any change.

The Pocopson Home is the last place Chester County administrators should be looking for budget cuts.  That was the message Tuesday night.

The three commissioners also justified their reasons for addressing the county-owned facility as the next step in reducing expenditures.

“The county has reduced its operating budget $56 million over the last four years. This is not the first thing we’ve considered cutting,” Commissioner Farrell said. “We’ve cut our (information technology) department. We’ve cut our facilities department … Now we’re examining Pocopson. We started out years ago cutting fat from the budget, we’ve cut muscle and now we’re cutting to the bone.”

The commissioners said they have made no decisions regarding the facility and have no plans to close Pocopson Home or to eliminate positions there.

One woman who said she was a county employee said her fellow employees receive too many perks that could be reduced or eliminated to help control costs.

“You gave us a 1 percent raise this last year. You shouldn’t have done that if you can’t afford it,” she said.

She also suggested eliminating paid holidays such as Columbus Day and Flag Day and increasing employee contributions for health care coverage.

Speakers also raised concerns about the loss of county jobs and the potential loss of pensions for the home’s employees, some of whom have been there for decades.

Oxford resident Jim Sumner said Pocopson is similar to the idea of government-run poor houses of the past and that providing care for residents in need is a public necessity.

“I think you’re going to suffer no matter which of those three options you choose, if you choose one,” Sumner said. “The quality of care will suffer because you can’t do an absolute market analysis of this kind of service.”

And that is the difference. We are not talking about desks, chairs, computers, paper supplies or vehicles. We are talking about people. And if the prison seems to be off limits to alternate considerations then so should Pocopson.

Let’s face it, it’s much easier to dump elderly residents back to their families or to the streets than a county prison inmate. A 90-year-old war veteran with limited mobility using a walker isn’t likely to go out and rob a bank.

With the prison comes more complicated issues when it comes to reducing costs, issues that might require some real thought. A home for the elderly is something that is easily cast aside. You just put it into the hands of a private enterprise, raise the costs forcing them out and then all of a sudden you’re making a profit or at least breaking even.

So Pocopson is costing the county money. We’re talking about people and sometimes services for people are expensive – but necessary. What’s next? Are we going to charge county orphans for childrens’ services?

I just remain puzzled why the commissioners continue on this path to divest the county of its role in running Pocopson. It’s going to happen. Changes are going to be made. It’s the low-hanging fruit. And it’s too tempting to walk away from.

—-

I took a road trip – albeit a short one – to the Pocopson Home today. After all, it was a beautiful spring afternoon, perfect to be outside of the office. Blue skies, sunshine, no wind to speak of.

I met with a bunch of residents there. They were all excited to see the editor of the newspaper come for a visit and heck, how often are news people welcomed by crowds? I can tell you not very often. (Keep checking dailylocal.com for the video…)

They were all assembled in a bright room where there were plenty of available snacks. I had no lunch by the way, but I resisted the giant box of Swedish Fish.

I talked to them briefly about their plight, about the potential changes from Pocopson being a county-run facility to, well, something else. You see there is no Plan B in writing for sure, at least not yet.

And obviously it’s an audience that loves where they live. But isn’t that what this is about? That is, the opinions of the residents, of those who live there? It seems that way to me.

Each and every one of them stated their case to me – and in no uncertain terms. None of them wants to see a change in its operation and their personal stories of love for the facility, the workers, and each other drove at least one employee to tears.

That is something that as of this minute I’m not sure the government leaders have seen. I’m not sure that they get that feeling, that emotion, that devotion of staff to the residents there at the Pocopson Home.

And that comfort level, that feeling of security and happiness is not something they could fake. No one could. Their feelings were genuine.

And as a caregiver myself for quite a long time, there’s no better feeling than knowing when you leave a place like a Pocopson Home that you can return to your own home knowing that everything is OK. And that has no price tag.

Speaking of the Pocopson Home and the county government, I did find it ironic that the cost per county resident for the Pocopson Home is a mere 16 cents more per citizen than the cost associated with the county commissioners operations.

Just saying.

There will be more meetings on this issue. Of that we have been assured. But that is all that has been promised. But we’ll keep watching and we’ll keep commenting and asking for your opinions.

—-

I read Daily Local reporter Michael Rellahan’s account of Monday night’s meeting at Downingtown East High concerning the Pocopson Home. Hundreds turned out again in the second public meeting concerning the future of the facility.

Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello told the large audience that the purpose of the meetings was to educate and not to scare anyone. Apparently many of the Pocopson residents are terrified that the place they call home will be or may be turned over to a private operation.

However the commissioner (I assume acting as the spokesman for all commissioners) made some pretty hefty promises and made some bold statements I’m not sure he’s really ready to back up. And if he is prepared to do just that and the county can save money and maintain operational success then by all means go for it.

But a word or two of caution here. Again, I don’t see how the promises can be made.

For example:

1)       “I am not interested in being a part of anything that would involve any of you moving out of your home,” said Costello of the home.

2)      Residents who live there now would not be forced to leave the facility many think of as “home” regardless of what decisions are made as to its ownership.

3)      Costello and his fellow commissioners tried to assure the employees at Pocopson that they were grateful for the job they have done caring for the residents there and were not setting out to deprive them of pay or benefits by selling the facility to a private owner.

4)      The commissioners, after hearing from their consultant about costs associated with Pocopson and possible revenue enhancement, also told those attending the meeting that no bids had been solicited for the facility and no timetable was set for a decision on its long-range future. It may come months from now or not at all.

I suppose my cynical nature makes me wonder how the promise can be made that if a private enterprise takes over what would prevent them from moving residents out? What agreements would be in place to stop that?

As to the employees, again, how can such guarantees be made as to pay, benefits, continued employment?

And if the facility is such a drain, would it not be prudent TO set a timetable for a decision?

According to Rellahan’s story, Pocopson faces questions about its future because revenues from the Medicare and Medicaid patients it serves are dropping while capital costs are looming. The county, which once saw the home providing revenue, now sees operating losses at the facility, according to a study completed by a King of Prussia-based health care consultant – Premier.

The story said that while less boisterous than the first in the series of public meetings on the home’s future that the commissioners have promised held two weeks ago, the crowd Monday for the most part was still solidly behind the notion that Pocopson should remain in public hands and not those of a private operator.

“I think that privatization, although no one wants to see their taxes increased, could be disastrous for the residents and the staff,” said Ann Bird of West Pikeland.

“I think that Pocopson should remain a county-owned facility, just as we control our roads and our bridges and our liquor stores,” said Frank Moon of Pennsbury. “We need to be able to find taxpayer dollars to support these 300 people.”

I would love to speak further to Helen Webber of East Goshen who said she hoped the commissioners would decide to sell the facility and stop providing long-term care. “I don’t know why the county should be in this business,” adding that she saw no reason why taxpayers should be asked to fund Pocopson.

I guess I would ask her if she feels confident that when she reaches her “golden years” and possible needs somewhere to go to live out her remaining years she has a place to go. If she does, then she’s very lucky.

Ms. Webber – not everyone is that lucky.

Chairman Terence Farrell at one point asked Moon, who spoke critically about property taxes he paid to the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, whether he would be willing to support a hypothetical 3 percent or 4 percent tax increase to keep Pocopson in county hands.

“Yes, I would,” Moon said, to applause.

Premier officials also reviewed new programs that could be initiated at Pocopson — such as dialysis treatment or short-term rehabilitation care — that would provide new revenue for the facility. However, some of those carried with them capital costs that would be added to the $6 million in building costs the home is estimated to need over the next five years.

The commissioners said that they were still studying the details of Premier’s evaluation, and that the next public meeting would focus on its assessment of three possible alternatives to keeping the facility run as it is now — transforming Pocopson to a nonprofit corporation overseen by the commissioners, leasing it to a private operator or selling it outright.

Deep down in my gut, I still get the sense that the Helen Webbers of the world – along with some members of the county government – see Pocopson as a burden we don’t need, a unnecessary evil, something we can do without.

That is until they themselves end up with nowhere to go and no family to lean on.

Folks, be careful for what you wish for…

—-

A little more than five hours from now it’s likely that the Downingtown East High School will be packed to the walls with people.

It won’t be for a play, a musical or an athletic event.

What it will be is another public session/meeting concerning the future of the Pocopson Home, the county-operated facility for the elderly. Following a recent meeting where nearly 300 people attended, tonight’s meeting is the second to listen to the public as to the future of Pocopson.

The debate concerns whether or not Chester County could, should or can continue to operate the facility based on current and anticipated government funding from the likes of Medicare and Medicaid. The commissioners are considering the potential and future of keeping Pocopson under the eye of the county.

At the first meeting, dozens of people including those who reside at Pocopson as well those who work there pleaded to the commissioners to keep it under county operations. Many referred to the facility as the “jewel of Chester County.”

Last week the Daily Local News published a coupon online and in the newspaper asking people to make a choice and let us know their feelings.

Since then we have received thousands of coupons from people all over the county. As of this minute, there are two people so far out of the thousands who voted who feel giving up operations of Pocopson is a good idea.

Of course the critics will say it’s stuffing the ballot box. However, there is equal opportunity to stuff it from both sides of the argument. And that didn’t happen.

Sometimes government needs to do what it thinks is right and sometimes the government needs to listen to its citizens. I feel this is one of those times.

Apparently so do thousands of others. The question is will the commissioners listen? Or is the deck already stacked and the decision made?

Attend tonight’s meeting and let them know how you feel.

 

—-

I had an interesting visit last week from Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello.

Out of the blue I received a phone call from someone who I believe was his administrative assistant or someone else who works for him. The word was that Ryan – or rather Commissioner Costello – wanted to discuss my blog post in which I took the position that the operation of the Pocopson Home should not be changed, that is, take it out of the hands of the county and into private hands.

Now Commissioner Costello was cordial enough but I couldn’t help thinking that he was visiting to give me the hard sell on why the county needs to get out of the business of operating a home for the elderly. I have been at this newspaper since 2005 and this visit from him was a first.

I listened to the reasons he gave for wanting to present his side of the story: declining funding from governments higher than county level, i.e., state, federal, as well as declining funding from things like Medicare and Medicaid. Hey, I am well aware of those funding cuts. And I also understand unfunded mandates which I got the feeling Commissioner Costello wanted to call the public’s push for Chester County to keep funding Pocopson.

We went back and forth on the issues of government run versus private operations of things like trash hauling, supplying county government with things like paper towels and soap. But we’re not talking desks, chairs, paper towels or soap here. We are talking about people, elderly people who in lots of cases are not able to live anywhere else.

For a lot of elderly people, this is their only lifeline. And I told him that I based my blog opinion on the fact that I had personal experience in homes for the elderly with my own mom. Finding a facility is probably one of the most difficult things I have had to do as a caregiver. It is draining on more than a few levels.

And I in my own search visited government operated and private facilities. And my own conclusion was that those facilities operated by a government – even if only in the minds of the residents and their families – gave people more comfort than a private operation. The theory is that residents and their families at least feel like there is a direct line for concerns and/or complaints.

The example I gave the commissioner was that if you deal out a contract for trash hauling to a private vendor and you’re unhappy with the results, you simply change it up the next year or when the contract is expired. What do you do if your relative resides in a facility operated privately and there are issues? Well, I can tell you from personal experience that you are in for a long, rough, bumpy road.

And as for inspections? We all know there are rarely – if ever – surprise inspections so those inspections are really quite bogus.

My opinion – and only my opinion – is that Commissioner Costello feels that operating Pocopson is somewhat of a nuisance, a burden on the overall taxpayer in the county. That’s the impression he left me with.

My gut tells me that he’d push to get out its operation. After all, dealing with a home for the elderly comes with a lot of baggage. There are lots of personnel issues, overhead, complaints, and on and on.

Now he assured me that no decisions have been made and that the county is looking at all options moving forward. There are no changes happening tomorrow. But I also got a message loud and clear that just because nearly 300 people showed up to voice their concerns doesn’t mean the county isn’t going to make a change either.

Right now that answer doesn’t exist. However if I was a betting man – and I am – my bet would be that the county will get out of the business of running the Pocopson Home. And in my opinion as I stated in the previous blog post, that will prove to be a bad choice.

While government doesn’t belong in a lot of things, government also shouldn’t abandon its citizens, many of which spent years working and paying taxes to the government.

Chester County needs to continue to stand by their elderly residents, at least until a proven, slam-dunk option is presented. To me, that hasn’t happened yet.

And I’m sure I will be getting another telephone call from the commissioner or his assistant. And like I told him last week, he’s welcome to drop by any time. However, I know where I stand. I’ve looked into the eyes of lots of elderly residents and there were times I felt pretty bad with the looks that came back.

Is that what we really want here? I don’t think so.

—-

When’s the last time 200 people showed up for a government meeting in Chester County? Even the sale of county buildings didn’t seem to generate a number that high.

Well on Wednesday night that was the case as a couple hundred people showed up to express their concern about the possible sale or otherwise changes at the Pocopson Home. Daily Local reporter Michael Rellahan noted that speaker after speaker, many of whose parents or other family members are current residents at the home, spoke of their love for the facility.

Apparently the concern is that once a facility like Pocopson would be turned over to a private operator the quality of care would decrease. The operation by the county makes it more accountable to the strict rules of the long-term facility.

But like other operations of the county, expenses are getting out of hand and there needs to be a solution. A health care consultant presented potential options for Pocopson. Premier president Joanne Jones said there was some possibility that Pocopson could increase its revenue by dedicating a portion of the facility to a short-term rehab unit, in which patients would come and get well and go home. That would come at the expense of long-term care, she indicated.

In addition, there are $6 million in capital costs at the aging facility that Pocopson Administrator Alan Larson said could not be put off indefinitely, such as upgrading heating and ventilation systems.

The options that Jones presented to the commissioners in the report for the future of Pocopson included setting it up as a nonprofit enterprise, still overseen by the county but operated by a semi-independent board of directors; leasing it to a third party; and selling it outright.

Each option had drawbacks. A nonprofit operation would mean that new employees would not be part of the county pension system, while leasing or selling the facility would mean its mission of care for needy residents would not necessarily carry on.

Jones did not offer a recommendation on what the best option would be, but noted there was an “undeniable need” for nursing care in the county that would be even greater in the future.

For anyone who has had to deal with placing an elderly loved one in a long-term care facility, it can be gut-wrenching.  And I have seen both sides of the care issue. I have visited the government-operated facilities and the private ones. I would definitely agree that the privately-run facilities don’t cut it as well as those with oversight of the government. And while I am not one to push for the government to stick its nose into things, this is the exception.

My mother lived in a privately-run facility. Clothing, jewelry, shoes, you name it and it disappeared. The worst was the theft of her engagement ring. And there’s not much you can do.

So I can feel the pain of those concerned about any potential Pocopson change.

According to Mike Rellahan’s story, Commissioner Ryan Costello, speaking before Jones’ presentation, said the three commissioners all recognized the place Pocopson plays in the county’s history and its community.

“It is a special place and it is a valued place,” Costello said. “We as commissioners realize that. But we as commissioners have to do our best to make sure costs are as low as possible. We need to look at everything.”

Commissioners’ Vice Chairman Kathi Cozzone, in thanking the crowd for coming to the meeting, promised that it would be only the first time the commissioners would hold a meeting to get input on the options. “I recognize that this is an important service that we provide to the community,” she said.

Among those who spoke at the two-hour-long session were two of the residents at Pocopson, who objected to any notion that the system should be changed.

“I feel this is just about money,” said Betty Decker, who spoke from her wheelchair. “I love Pocopson. I don’t need to move out. We don’t need changes.”

“Pocopson is very valuable to everyone who is there,” echoed Nanette Story. “We don’t want any changes.” The commissioners said another meeting would be scheduled sometime in the coming month.

I urge anyone who is concerned to keep the pressure on the county to retain the control over Pocopson. I believe any privatization would be a mistake. Anyone who disagrees should just talk to those of us who have had to place our elderly into these facilities.

—-

 

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About fromtheeditorchair

I am the editor of the Daily Local News.
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