“People for Pine Crest” present petition
BY TINA L. SCOTT
A group of Lincoln County residents calling themselves the “People for Pine Crest” called a press conference on Monday, June 26, 2023, in the Lincoln County Service Center on N. Sales Street in Merrill. Representatives of the group spoke to the media.
Renea Frederick, a local business owner and Merrill resident began. “We are all here to ask the Lincoln County Board not to sell Pine Crest,” she said. “We want the Board to thoroughly explore the different options listed in the Ad Hoc Committee report and also to look at some of the out-of-the-box strategies other communities have used to financially support their nursing homes. We also ask that the citizens of Lincoln County be part of this process. Our goal is to find financial solutions that will enable Pine Crest to continue to serve our residents now and into the future.”
The group of about 20 people gathered included Elizabeth McCrank, current Lincoln County Board Supervisor for District 3.
“I feel that the process that has been and is being used is deeply flawed and perhaps even dishonest toward the people of the county,” McCrank said. “I believe that selling Pine Crest, in any fashion whatsoever, is turning our backs on the people who have invested in our community and paid their taxes, sometimes for decades … [who] did it all the while believing that this would be a great place for them to live out their lives …”
“Turning our backs on these people is to me unacceptable and immoral,” she said. “I believe that selling Pine Crest amounts to cheating the people of the county, and even those people who think they support selling Pine Crest, in my opinion, are being dealt with dishonestly by the people carrying this out.”
McCrank said the County Board needs to include the public “in weighty and consequential decisions such as asking what the people of the county are willing to do in order to keep Pine Crest functioning as a public institution.”
She said she was particularly disappointed that her proposed resolution for a county-wide resolution was “killed” at a recent County Board meeting. “They claim the result [of a referendum] would ‘put us in the same place we are now.’ That shows they know the voters don’t want them to do this, but they don’t want to hear it,” McCrank said. “Some of them claim that a referendum would cause a distress sale. But they have already done that themselves by committing to this course of action.”
“And their recent claims that they’re not committed to a sale are even more disingenuous,” she said. “No one hires a broker to get an appraisal … You hire a broker to sell something.”
McCrank also accused members of the County Board of lying about their intentions, though she did not call anyone out by name.
With regard to her proposed referendum, “I don’t know what the public would choose in a referendum, but I’d like to find out,” she said. “I don’t know what depth of support for Pine Crest there is. But I listened to hours of public comment at County Board meetings and at listening sessions held by the County Board on this topic. I’ve heard overwhelming desire from people to keep the facility and keep it public, and then I heard my colleagues on the County Board do the exact opposite of what the public had told us.”
“I accept that sometimes elected officials are faced with moral decisions where we may have to choose an unpopular path, but in this case the moral choice is between valuing community or valuing money. The people told us community, and the Board chose money,” McCrank said. “Saving money while costing community turns us into a civic desert. I choose community, and I desperately urge my colleagues on the County Board to rethink this choice and choose the same. At the very least, let’s let the public weigh in with a straightforward referendum.”
Pastor Michael Southcombe of Saint Stephens UCC in Merrill also spoke, but he took a different approach.
“Our quarrel is not with our County Board,” he said. “Our quarrel is with the payment structure and the business model we have now for elder care in this country.”
“Most nursing homes are not financially viable if they have more than 10% of their residents on Medicaid. Pine Crest has 70-80% of its residents on Medicaid.”
It is not financially viable to run a nursing home with that many residents on Medicaid unless that nursing home has an outside source of income to make up the losses, he said.
“Nursing homes that go beyond that 10% of residents on Medicaid have an outside source of funding–either an endowment fund, a boisterous fund development office raising money, connections with churches, or county funds or an endowment fund,” Southcombe said.
“To believe that someone will buy Pine Crest-either a non-profit or a for-profit entity … and keep the same level of service with 70-80% of the residents on Medicaid, is magical thinking,” he said.
Southcombe challenged the Board to “stand up and abide by the moral contract we have had with the most vulnerable elderly residents of Merrill since 1900.”
“For 123 years people have counted on Pine Crest as the backstop,” Southcombe said. He explained that many residents who can initially afford for-profit nursing homes are faced with needing to move when their funds run out. “And then the family gets the call,” he said. “‘We only have five Medicaid beds left and they’re all filled. You’ve got three days to get your loved one out of this home and somewhere else.’”
“I’ve seen that happen with members of my churches over the last 30 years with countless for-profit nursing homes,” he said. “It is unconscionable that that would happen here in Merrill.”
Southcombe referred to “an endowment fund that can supply the extra money needed when you have so many Medicaid patients” and said, “We have an endowment fund here in Merrill, in Lincoln County. It’s called the integrity of the citizens.”
“We have over 650 signatures, and we have more coming,” he said. He added this was just over the course of a three or four-week signature drive. “The signatures we have represent almost 10% of the number of people who voted in the last election, and we’re going to deliver those signatures to not sell Pine Crest this morning when they are opening up the bids, or RFP’s, for a broker to broker just such a sale.”
Frederick handed the petitions to Lincoln County Board Chair Don Friske when he entered the building to attend the scheduled receipt and review of proposals in response to the County’s request for proposals.
RFP results from brokers
After the press conference, Lincoln County Clerk Chris Marlowe publicly opened and documented the receipt of three proposals from brokers who sent in a proposal to represent Lincoln County in exploring the potential for any interested buyers who might wish to purchase Pine Crest Nursing Home to run it privately.
Most of those who came for the press conference witnessed the process.
Proposals were received from Evans Senior Investments, SVN, and Marcus & Millichap. Their initial proposed bid percentages ranged from 3 to 13 percent, but it was not clear whether those percentages included associated expenses or whether the brokers who submitted proposals met the Board’s minimum specified requirements. Friske said the proposals would be reviewed in more detail at a meeting of the Lincoln County Administrative & Legislative Committee scheduled for Wednesday, June 28, at 3:30 p.m.