By Art Gallagher
This evening at the Monmouth County Agriculture Building, the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders will listen to a report on the state of the county owned care centers/nursing homes. Following that report, the are very likely vote to move forward in the process of selling or privatizing the facilities.
There have been compelling arguments made on both sides of the issue. There has also been emotion driven demagoguery on both sides of the issue. What may have been missing, so far, is a dispassionate analysis. There are those of both sides of the issue who have been fighting for their intended outcome based on ideological, emotional, and political concerns. Ideology, emotion and politics are all appropriate factors. However, those drivers should be informed by a dispassionate analysis of all the facts and options. Any official who casts a vote on the future of the care centers based solely on ideology, emotion, politics or personal preference is guilty of malpractice.
I respectively ask all five of my friends on the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders to consider the answers to the following questions before making a final decision on the future of the John L. Montgomery and Geraldine Thompson care centers.
1) Is it possible for Monmouth County to operate the care centers at a financial surplus? If so, what would have to happen and how long would it take to make that happen? Think outside the box in researching this question. Could a non-profit be created to raise funds to support the facilities? Have all possible sources of funding been explored?
2) What is the value of each and every asset under the purview of the care centers at their highest and best use? Land, buildings, equipment, contracts, licenses, accounts receivable,etc. What is each and every asset worth at its highest and best use? What are those assets worth if sold for a use other than care centers. This information is critical. I don’t believe the freeholders have considered this variable. They should. Disposing of the assets without knowing their highest and best use is malpractice. It may be appropriate to dispose of taxpayer owned assets at less than their highest value. But public officials charged with the public’s trust should be fully informed when making those decisions.
3) What are the options for the patients/residents and employees? The status quo is not necessarily the best option. Just because the residents and employees say the status quo is best and make heart wrenching pleas, doesn’t mean that continuing to operate Montgomery and Thompson as a county owned facility is the best option for residents and patients. That doesn’t mean that the status quo isn’t the best for them either. Other options for the care of the patients should be explored. Dispassionately.
4) What happens if the centers are sold at a discount, with restrictions to protect the residents and employees, if the buyer(s) of the facilities fails? A savvy operator could set up a stand alone entity to buy the facilities and agree to the restrictions designed to protect the residents and employees. Other entities controlled by the operator could be the only creditors of the entity that buys the care centers. Could savvy investors buy the care centers, suffer the continuing losses for a few years and then declare failure and liquidate the formerly taxpayer owned assets at their highest and best use?
Nothing irreversible regarding the future of the care centers is going to happen tonight in Freehold. The process should move forward. But no final decisions should be made until the answers to theses questions are considered by all concerned.
Monmouth County should not continue to operate these care centers at the deficits they have been incurring. Nor should Monmouth County dispose of the facilities without knowing the value of the assets if sold for other uses. Knowing the highest value of the assets doesn’t mean that they have to be sold for the highest value. Not knowing the value and disposing of the asset is malpractice. It is vital that the residents/patients be well taken care, wherever that may be.
The demagoguery on both sides of this issue should stop. The loss of affinity among friends and colleagues should not be a casualty of this debate. All concerned are people of good will doing and fighting for what they think is right.