BEDFORD — After a week of public outcry in response to the potential sale of the Bedford County Nursing Home to a private, for-profit company, Bedford County Administrator Robert Hiss announced at a special-called public hearing Monday night that the company withdrew its offer to buy the nursing home earlier Monday afternoon.
The audience of dozens of nursing home workers, family members of residents and general public erupted in cheers after hearing the offer was withdrawn.
Roanoke-based American HealthCare LLC had made an offer to buy the Bedford County Nursing Home. Nursing home workers were informed of the potential sale April 11, just one week prior to the public hearing, and family members were not notified until April 13, they said, resulting in many feeling blindsided by their local leaders.
The board of supervisors and county administration are responsible for overseeing the nursing home operations, approving things like budgets and new hires, and keeping up the facility grounds. The Bedford County Nursing Home was the only one in Virginia still operating in this manner, Hiss said.
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In a statement from Bedford County’s public information office last week, which Hiss reiterated points from during Monday’s meeting, top reasons for the decision to sell the facility included the board’s feeling its members were not nursing home administrators; increasingly tight, complex and changing regulations in the nursing home industry were difficult to keep up with; and the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for health care workers went against board members’ beliefs and values on personal liberty. The statement said American HealthCare’s company values and mission aligned well with what county officials and board members sought in a potential buyer.
Dozens of community members packed the Bedford County administration building Monday night to speak against the sale of the nursing home, while others sent emails for the record if they could not attend in person.
Residents’ family members and employees alike shared the overarching concerns the quality of care offered at the home would deteriorate due to profit-oriented goals of a private company, and consternation over the short notice of the potential sale and general lack of transparency from their local leadership.
More than 20 people spoke, and many of the speakers shared the stories of awful experiences their loved ones endured in private nursing homes prior to coming to the Bedford County Nursing Home, recounting how their parents or relatives were left sitting in their own filth; were forgotten on the toilet for hours; or suffered general neglect and lack of compassion. All these speakers said the care from staff at the Bedford County Nursing Home is above and beyond what they could have hoped for. This publicly-operated nursing home was life-changing, offering unparalleled care and compassion, they all agreed.
Nursing home workers offered insights gained from working at private nursing homes before coming to the county’s nursing home. All said the quality of care offered was vastly different, mainly because a private company has profit-oriented goals. Several of them witnessed some of the squalor residents’ family members spoke of.
Terri Wilkerson, who said she worked at the Bedford County Nursing Home for 22 years of her career in the field, said she also served in an administrative capacity in a privately-owned company.
“I have also worked in a private sector nursing home. I can assure you that care is not the top priority,” she said. “I can tell you many times, I walked out on the floor and had to collect supplies, cut staff out, in order to meet the demands for profit. That is not what you want for Bedford County Nursing Home, or any nursing home located in Bedford County.”
Richard Rogers, who said he is nearly 83, told the board he has told his wife that should anything happen to require he go into assisted living, he wanted to go to the Bedford County Nursing Home due to its excellent reputation.
“Why would we want to get rid of something that is helping out community?” Rogers asked.
In response to questions on transparency, Hiss said when striking deals and negotiating business matters in the private sector, public meetings are not required. The only requirement was a public hearing, such as the one held Monday night. He said the board and administration consulted with legal professionals and others throughout the process of seeking and identifying an ideal buyer. After shortlisting potential buyers to five companies, four submitted offers and were interviewed. Hiss said American HealthCare “emerged as the top candidate” based on criteria Bedford County officials had established for potential buyers.
District 4 Supervisor and board chair John Sharp said the catalyst in pushing to sell the nursing home was his opposition to mandating the COVID-19 vaccination for employees.
Heather McDonald, whose mother resides at the county nursing home, pointed out due to federal mandate, health care workers will be required to have the vaccine no matter who they work for.
“All of these employees, whether they work at Bedford County Nursing Home or some other place, if they’re health care employees, they’re going to have to have the vaccine. Whether you save them from it or not, it’s not going to save them, because that is their career. If somebody else comes in, they’re going to make them have the vaccine,” she said.
District 1 Supervisor Mickey Johnson said he was opposed to the county selling the nursing home. Although he said he did not have answers as to how the local government bodies could better manage the facility at the immediate moment, he said, “I do have a heart for it.”
District 3 Supervisor Charla Bansley said she grew up visiting many nursing homes in the area due to involvement with church ministries, and agreed with speakers the Bedford County Nursing Home’s environment was something rare and special.
“We do have a treasure. I have to agree with that,” she said.
District 7 Supervisor Tammy Parker thanked speakers for attending and also thanked the county nursing home staff for providing such an outstanding living situation, based on client testimony.
District 5 Supervisor Tommy Scott said the board was not “trying to pull anything on anybody,” or make a “shady” deal. He said closed meetings were necessary because there were “so many parties involved” in the process.
“I heard a lot of comments tonight that I wasn’t aware of, and I have to take all that into consideration,” Scott said. “We listened tonight, and I think we heard.”
Supervisors and county staff did not say they wouldn’t consider the sale of the county nursing home in the future, but for the time being, the facility remains in local government hands. No discussion occurred about whether or not to continue looking into selling it.
District 2 Supervisor Edgar Tuck encouraged citizens to offer constructive suggestions on how to help more effectively manage having a county-operated nursing home, to help navigate the ongoing challenges that arise, particularly in regard to tightening and complex industry regulations and staffing issues. This way, the county nursing home could remain the way it currently operates.
Many speakers said they would be glad to work toward finding solutions together to keep the Bedford County Nursing Home operating as it currently does, raising the idea of forming a committee that includes industry professionals or creating internships within the nursing home to help fill the staffing gap while also benefiting up-and-coming workers in the field.
“If you truly do want ideas, then I’m willing to be a part of that conversation,” said Terri Lamb, who said she works as a controller for a large company in Lynchburg and whose mother lives at the Bedford County Nursing Home.