Possible sale of Berks County’s nursing home raises questions of quality

Source: Nicole C. Brambila and Karen Shuey, Reading Eagle, September 24, 2017
 
While the financial future of county-owned nursing homes might be uncertain, decades of research is fairly clear: a public sale likely means the number of health violations will go up as the quality of resident care goes down. Observed by researchers for roughly two decades, the phenomenon is often the result of the new for-profit owners cutting costs by reducing staff and slashing employee benefits. … These questions loom large as Berks County commissioners are mulling over whether to sell Berks Heim Nursing and Rehabilitation in Bern Township. No decision has been made but the county-owned nursing home faces a projected $3 million deficit. Citing questions of quality and safety, Berks Heim staff and some residents are speaking out against a sale.

… Berks County’s commissioners considered selling Berks Heim two decades ago but opted against it. But then, a public sale in the late 1990s would have been a first in the region. … research also shows that a sale becomes more likely when surrounding counties have divested. Among Berks County’s six contiguous counties, four counties – Lancaster, Lebanon, Montgomery and Schuylkill – have all sold county-owned nursing homes since 2005. Only officials in two – Chester and Lehigh counties – have held onto their county-owned facilities. … Talk of a potential sale has been met with sharp opposition from residents and staff. … Divesting a county-owned home then will likely disproportionately impact the poor. … And Harrington, a nationally respected expert on nursing home care, has repeatedly found that for-profit facilities receive more deficiencies than nonprofit or government-owned nursing homes. Comparing the 10 largest chains in the U.S. to government-owned facilities, Harrington found in a 2012 study that serious deficiencies in chains were 41 percent higher. A significant reason for the care discrepancy is staffing levels, typically reduced under new ownership to control costs. …