October 24, 2017 — Berks Heim is a beloved institution in Berks County, and it is a much-needed safety net for the elderly in our community. Berks Countians are rightly proud of the facility and almost everyone seems to have a story about the quality of care that a family member or friend received there.
Many of our families have relied upon Berks Heim and many of us have witnessed that it is an extremely well-run nursing home. The staff provides an extraordinary level of care.
Berks Heim has been the focus of much consternation lately as the Berks County commissioners wrestle with whether to raise taxes to keep the Heim in operation or to sell it to a for-profit company. The commissioners are considering selling the facility to avoid a tax increase that would fund future deficits that are anticipated due to flat Medicaid funding from the Commonwealth.
Were they to sell the home, it would likely be bought by a for-profit company. Unfortunately, there’s a growing body of evidence that for-profit health care providers provide a lower quality of care than nonprofit providers (including government). If there’s one thing that everyone seems to agree on, it’s this: We all want to see a high-quality long-term care option for the residents of our area.
Last month, County Commissioner Mark Scott approached the Community Foundation with the proposition that Berks Heim might be able to operate more viably as a private, locally-controlled nonprofit entity than as a county nursing home. This belief is based on a Medicaid funding formula that disfavors county homes in Pennsylvania and is supported by the recent conversions of county homes in Somerset and Centre counties to nonprofit status.
Turning Berks Heim into a private nonprofit is a third alternative for the community to consider.
It would allow local citizens to remain in control of the facility and its quality of care.
When Commissioner Scott approached us, he did not know that my personal background includes a career in the long-term care industry and time as a special assistant to Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Aging. This background has been helpful as I evaluated Berks Heim during a tour and a visit with its management.
Based on my visit and on my own analysis of Medicaid regulations, including an impending change to a Medicaid-managed care model, it appears that the question of whether a private nonprofit would be a more viable alternative is one that is at least worth exploring.
We have recommended that the county engage a third party to examine this possibility. It’s a fairly complex analysis of the current cost structure and the Community Foundation is willing to work alongside county personnel to support that work and monitor the progress of an outside firm.
If a consensus emerges that a private nonprofit is the best path forward for the community, we are prepared to provide the technical and logistical support necessary to help create that entity.
It’s important to note that this would likely be a new nonprofit organization, not part of or affiliated with Berks County Community Foundation. A new board of directors would need to be recruited to negotiate a transfer from the County of Berks, including the building and land, to retain a management team, and to arrange for the general affairs of the new organization. We have expertise in those areas and are willing to lend a hand given the importance of the Heim to our residents.
Berks County families have relied on Berks Heim for generations. It is important to the residents and their families, the employees and their families, and to all the taxpayers of Berks County that we consider all of our options and make the right choice for our community’s future.
Kevin K. Murphy, President
Berks County Community Foundation