Butler County nursing home faces $1 million in unexpected coronavirus expenses

The Butler County Care Facility continues to struggle with staffing issues during the coronavirus pandemic with about $1 million in unanticipated costs, and now the administrator has quit.

Administrator Chamika Poole’s last day at the county home will be Monday. She had been on the job barely a year, arriving Sept. 23, 2019. She told the Journal-News she found a “better opportunity” that is closer to home.

Human Resources Director Laurie Murphy said her original final day was supposed to be last Friday but she agreed to stay until the director of nursing returns from maternity leave. In August, the commissioners made some moves to handle the temporary vacancy, contracting with Professional Review Network, Inc. (PRN) for an interim administrator. Poole is a registered nurse, so they needed her to take the top nursing spot for 10 weeks.

Murphy said Lee Jones with PRN will remain on the job until a new administrator can be found.

There have been numerous vacancies at the home, and the coronavirus has made it difficult to fill them. County Administrator Judi Boyko told the commissioners during budget hearings the problem persists.

The home hosted a drive-thru job fair in August trying to hire 28 people, including an assistant business office manager, nurses, nurses aides, and kitchen and laundry staff. Only three people showed up, but officials have continued in efforts to attract employees.

Boyko said they have interviewed more than 120 applicants, and they have hired about 10%, “so we are still struggling.” She said she believes wages are the main issue and she will be presenting the commissioners with some adjustments. But there are other factors as well, the entire long-term care industry is suffering the effects of the pandemic.

“Butler County’s Care Facility is a micro example of what’s happening at a macro level in the industry. It’s an ecosystem with macro influences we are not going to be able to address: we can’t resolve COVID; we can’t resolve the demand for services for the elderly and infirmed.” Boyko told the Journal-News. “But what we certainly can do is create within our Butler County Care Facility organization an environment conducive to attracting and retaining county staff.”

To offset the depleted staff they have reduced the census at the 109-bed facility to less than half and hired temporary staff to fill in which is very expensive.

“It’s going to be upwards toward $1 million in contract fees, course we’re going to get an additional $400,000 or $500,000 back for the additional payroll that COVID has produced, that’ll take us down to about $500,000,” Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News. “But we have reduced the total number of residents that we have, in other words we just put a freeze on incoming residents.”

While the coronavirus has caused difficulties, the home has not had any positive cases, unlike other homes in the county. The state updates the number of cases at nursing and assisted living facilities every Wednesday, in the past week 14 residents and nine staff have contracted the virus. Since they began keeping track in mid-April, 368 residents and 172 staff have had the virus.

The county nursing home has struggled financially for years. Commissioners authorized a $350,000 payment to the nursing home in December, and it also received a $100,000 payment from the general fund in October. The payments helped cover a $242,000 deficit at the facility.

Two years ago, the facility needed a $425,000 subsidy, and in 2016 the commissioners had to loan it $225,000 so payroll could be met through the end of the year. At one time, the county nursing home owed the general fund $1.1 million, a debt the home partially repaid.

Despite many challenges through the years the commissioners have stayed committed to preserving the home that they consider a haven of lost resort for the poor of the county. Dixon said he remains resolute in this regard. When asked, the other two commissioners said they are not as sure.

“I think we need to look for the next administrator and see if we can get this salvaged,” Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said. “If we can’t then we have to go down the road and look at closing it.”

She said the money aspect isn’t the main problem for her, “management issues need to be resolved.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he isn’t considering shuttering the building now, but “it’s a constant evaluation.”

“Every life has value, but how long do we continue to pump in a half million to $1 million a year,” Rogers said

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