OP ED: Of love and fear and hope … and Pine Crest


Allow me to begin with a story, a parable if you will.

The parable of the farmer and the vineyard

There once was a farmer who had four fields. In the first three fields, he grew potatoes, the mainstay of the village where he lived, and in the fourth field, he had a vineyard where he grew grapes that he turned into a delicious sweet red wine all the villagers loved. While the potatoes were a necessity, the sweet wine was a wonderful addition to his farm and somewhat the pride and joy of the small village. Not only he, but all of the villagers, were proud of the locally produced vintage wine and the humble winery was well-known locally.
For whatever reason, as weather patterns are apt to do, rainfall in the region began to decrease over a number of years, and the farmer had to begin irrigating all of his fields from a nearby reservoir in order to keep them growing. But the irrigation system he had was far from fancy and had some issues. Nonetheless, the system traveled first to the vineyard and then on down the line to each of his three potato fields. Over the years, the system had developed some leaks and he attempted to patch them as best he could, as he couldn’t afford to invest in a new irrigation system.
Still, the small vineyard was lush and green and produced fat grapes for his wine, but gradually the three potato fields began to wither and the potato fields produced fewer potatoes. This was a problem for both the farmer and the villagers, as they, too, relied upon the farmer’s potato crop, and the farmer struggled with what to do.
One day a man in the village had a visitor from out of the area, and he showed the visitor around the simple community, shared a meal with him, and served him some of the delicious sweet red wine. The visitor was intrigued with the wine, so the man took his visitor around the area and they stopped to visit the farmer so the visitor could tour the vineyard where the grapes were grown and the humble winery where the wine was produced and also the potato fields, and the visitor learned of the farmer’s plight. The visitor enjoyed the tour and then left, returning home.
Not long after, the visitor came back to the small village and stopped again to see the farmer. “I may have an answer to your problem,” the visitor said, and the farmer listened to his proposed solution. “Not far from here is a man who owns five vineyards, and he produces a wonderful vintage of wine. While I personally don’t think it is quite so delicious as yours, the people who live near his vineyards love his wine and favor it, and it is indeed a wonderful wine, so popular that he cannot keep up with the demand for it. And the owner of those vineyards would like to expand his winery, to produce more wine. If you sold your small vineyard to him, then he could expand his winery and you would be able to divert all your irrigation equipment to your three potato fields and they would soon grow green and fruitful once again, producing your potato crop in greater abundance for you and the nearby villagers.”
“But the villagers here love my wine,” the farmer said, “and I employ some of them in my vineyard and they help me produce my wine.”
“Ah, but that is the thing,” the visitor said. “The owner of the vineyard would need more people in his employ to help him expand his winery, so he would hire those villagers to continue working in the vineyard and producing the wine under his label. So the villagers would still have work, doing what they do now, and the region would still have the delicious sweet red wine, but you would no longer be the one to irrigate the vineyard. The owner of the other vineyard would set up his own irrigation system, which if I may say so without offending you, would be somewhat newer and have less leaks than the one you are now using, and he and the same villagers who now work the vineyard would continue to care for it. It would stay lush and green and fruitful, but by moving your irrigation equipment from your vineyard to the potato fields, under your care the potato fields would once again also grow green and produce as they should.”
“You have given me much to think about,” the farmer said. “I will ponder this and let you know my decision.”
After the visitor left, the farmer thought and thought and thought about what the visitor had suggested. He talked about it with his wife and with his friends in the village. And in due time, he decided that though he and the villagers all loved his little vineyard, they needed the potato crop more. It was a staple of their diets in the region and he could not afford for his potato crop to continue to decline. His wife and friends in the village agreed they needed the potatoes to flourish once again, more than they needed the wine. But oh, if they could have both! Perhaps everyone could benefit.
So the farmer sent word to the visitor that if the owner of the larger vineyard were truly so inclined to purchase his small vineyard and would continue to employ the villagers who worked the vineyard now and would also continue to sell the sweet red wine in the local village, he would consider his offer.
The owner of the vineyard was so inclined and he made the farmer an offer, which the farmer accepted. When the villagers learned of the sale, some were upset because they thought the arrangement was too good to be true. Others were content because the villagers still had work, continuing to work in the vineyard, but under the new owner. And others told the farmer the owner of the larger vineyard had taken advantage of him, offering him far less than what his vineyard was worth. But the farmer knew that the owner of the other vineyard needed to make a sizeable investment to install his own irrigation equipment to water the vineyard, and he said, “No, the new owner is investing to save this little vineyard we all love so much, and I would rather see it thrive under his care than wither and die under the hot sun. For this reason, I believe his offer was fair, and I am content with it.”
“The most important thing to me,” the farmer continued, “is that the potatoes must thrive if our village is to survive. But I also love the little vineyard as all of you do. It has been my pride and joy also all these years, and I am sorry to no longer call it my own. But if the new owner will love it and care for it, with the help of those of you now in his employ, I will be grateful to him and to you, to see it continue to grow and thrive and produce well. And I will drink a toast to him and all of you with the first wines produced from the vineyard under his vineyard’s label. I will not grow bitter because the vineyard is no longer mine. Rather, I will thank him for allowing the vineyard to continue to flourish. You see, the room where I sleep overlooks that vineyard, and I have watched it grow for many many years. And I will take much pleasure in seeing it continue to flourish so that we all may benefit. Now we will all eat well with a healthy potato crop, and we will also drink well. Be of good cheer, my friends. All is not lost.”

Of love …

In recent months, with regard to the issue of ownership of Pine Crest Nursing Home, County-owned versus private-owned, and the possibility of a sale, I have interviewed and met with and spoken with many different people on both “sides” of the issue, and many at considerable length. No matter who I spoke with, every last person had the same deep-seated and heartfelt desire. Each and every one wanted Pine Crest Nursing Home to continue operating, to continue providing exceptional care to residents and for Medicaid-pay residents to be welcome at the facility, for the current employees to stay on to give that wonderful care, and for it to stay a mainstay of the Merrill community. Many in our community go there as volunteers, area churches provide services for the residents, and children from area schools visit and interact with the residents. It isn’t just a skilled nursing facility; it is a part of our community. Many had family members who had now, or in the past, been residents there. And many know that one day they may need the facility themselves. I heard from every person that they had a heart of love for this place and a desire for it to continue to be a place of care, kindness, compassion, and community for our elderly population who need this facility. Never – and I repeat – never did a single person say they wished to close Pine Crest.
The only difference between the groups or individuals that I interviewed, or saw interviewed, or spoke with at length over the last series of months, has been in what they felt was the best, most viable approach to realizing the exact same goal.
I truly feel this is one of those “two sides of the same coin” situations.
Again, never did I hear even a single person say they wanted to close Pine Crest Nursing Home. To the contrary, every single one was focused on how to save it from what they perceived as its greatest threats.

Of fear …

During County Board meetings, I heard passionate people advocating to achieve this the best way they knew how. At times that passion resulted in raised voices, tempers that flared, frustration, and accusations. Many people on either “side” of the issue were frustrated because it seemed they could not get the other “side” to either understand or come around to their point of view.
In the end, what united all of these people, in addition to a love for Pine Crest, was fear. All feared that if they didn’t do something – and do it soon – Pine Crest as we know it might no longer be viable.
The People for Pine Crest and many area residents feared a sale would result in an outside purchaser either changing the nursing home facility substantially or, at worst, that the outside purchaser would close its doors. The County Board members feared lack of a sale would ultimately result in its closure due to lack of available funding. And they feared putting it to a referendum was too risky, because if the referendum failed, then it would reduce the value of the facility in the eyes of a potential buyer. (Kind of like if you’re putting in an offer on a house. If the current owner puts the house up for sale, you might offer the asking price or thereabouts. But if you know the current owner is about to lose the house to foreclosure, you’re more apt to offer a significantly lower price because you know that the owner is desperate.)
Fear. At the heart of all the anger and frustration, wherever that presented itself, was fear.
But the opposite of fear … is hope.

And of hope …

While many may disagree with the decision to sell Pine Crest, the decision has now been made. I sincerely hope it will be a good decision for everyone involved.
And I hope all those who feel passionately about Pine Crest will embrace hope and move forward in a positive hope-filled way. In discussions and at meetings, I also saw many thoughtful, reasoning people trying to see both “sides” of the issue. I hope they will direct these efforts to move forward positively.
How do we do that? How about by continuing to hold the love for Pine Crest in our hearts and continuing to do the things that made Pine Crest such a wonderful place over all these years? What if we encouraged the residents and staff at Pine Crest to embrace the change instead of fearing it, welcomed the new owners, and gave them all the love, encouragement, and support the Merrill community can muster? Because, after all, isn’t our goal to see the nursing home succeed and grow, no matter whose name is on the deed? How about if we continue the rich history of volunteerism and community at Pine Crest and do everything in our power to ensure that the only things that change about Pine Crest Nursing Home are these three:

  • The names of the owners on the paperwork;
  • The profitability, so that it is a long-term viable part of our community; and
  • The growth of the nursing home so that the beds are once again filled, there is a full staff with a good place to work, and the unused wings of the half-empty building can perhaps be repurposed into assisted living or services for the residents or some other purpose to benefit our elderly community.

How about if hope for the future under new ownership becomes more important than taking “sides”?

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