By Ernesto Cullari
In the pursuit of trimming Monmouth County’s bottom line Freeholders Tom Arnone, Gary Rich and John Curley, Curley who faces the voters in November, are about to turn their back on several handicapped and indigent patients living at the John L. Montgomery Care Center in Freehold, despite a viable, fiscally responsible and compassionate alternative being proposed by Freeholders Lillian Burry and Serena DiMaso. The Burry-DiMaso plan both trims the budget and saves the facility, which serves some of the county’s most needy families.
Life is wondrous, beautiful and vital, until it’s not. Many of us have watched a grandparent, so active and so engaged from the earliest moments of our youth, suddenly decline and descend into illness and death. It’s even harder when it’s a parent or a child. My dad recently fell ill. As I write this he lays in intensive care, holding on to his relatively young life via prayers and the constant attention of family and medical professionals. If he survives this dangerous chapter, he may have a lifetime of respiratory, physical and occupational therapy ahead of him. A wondrous beautiful life is all at once fragile and uncertain.
That uncertainty is what makes Monmouth County’s two nursing homes a precious and an important part of our community’s health care system. It’s important that once a person loses all that made their life so full that their dignity and what time is left to their life are protected, making the role of Freeholder much more complicated than most people know. It’s precisely what makes our nursing homes so necessary, as well. Nonetheless, the county runs both facilities at great expense to the taxpayers.
The Freeholders are tasked with both alleviating the financial burden on taxpayers and at the same time seeing to it that those most vulnerable in our county, people like my dad, are receiving the type of care that upholds their dignity. Freeholder Lillian Burry has described the two opposing issues of cutting costs with the need to properly manage our nursing homes. She states:
“These tend to be ones that place two or more fundamental commitments of government in conflict with one another. Determining the future of our care centers is just such a complex issue.” Although complex, Burry and DiMaso have a plan that honors both commitments.
Not everyone on the Freeholder Board recognizes just how complex and sensitive this conflict is to County residents. And perhaps not everyone on the board realizes what’s at stake for the patients currently under our care. It’s an election year and Republican Freeholder John Curley is shouting from the rooftops that it’s time for the county to sell the nursing homes. Tom Arnone and Gary Rich are said to agree with Curley. While improvements can be and need to be made to the way our nursing homes are run, selling both of them off is undignified and is tantamount to turning our backs on those who need our help most. The issue requires much more consideration than what Curley, Rich and Arnone are proposing, which is to sell the care centers with significant restrictions on the buyer to protect the residents and employees.
Reforming our facilities, where reform is needed, selling off a portion of what could be sold without reducing the quality of life to patients would be more compassionate than simply auctioning them both off. The two facilities that the county oversees are completely different and serve two very diverse groups of people.
The Geraldine Thompson Care Center in Wall Township is home to a frail and elderly population. It is more typical of the types of patients that reside in nursing homes. It is the type of facility that could be sold and the quality of life for its residence would likely be improved. The John L. Montgomery Care Center in Freehold is a different situation. It’s exactly the type of facility that my dad might be sent to should he improve.
Care provided by the John L. Montgomery Care Center (JLMCC) staff are more specialized and less profitable to any would be private nursing facility. This county facility cares for those that fall through the cracks. They are deemed too expensive by the private industry and have likely exhausted their Medicare coverage. JLMCC manages the extremely medically complex: IV, indwelling catheters, tracheostomies, oxygen, respiratory therapies, artificial nutritional feedings, para and quadriplegic residents; those that have traumatic brain injuries, the neurologically impaired; large MS populations, and patients with mental health issues and the developmentally delayed.
Many of the residents have very limited family involvement; hence the staff and other patients have become like family to them. The state relies on JLMCC to provide the necessary services to the most vulnerable, the most difficult patients to place, the unappealing, the poor, the marginalized and the underserved with nowhere else to go. It makes me wonder if Freeholder John Curley has really thought this out. Does he really want to turn his back on these people? Are Freeholders Tom Arnone and Gary Rich also so uncaring that they wouldn’t consider a compromise that both cuts costs and cares for our citizens? One of them has the opportunity to be a hero. I wonder who or if any will come to the rescue.