by Jonathan Weaver
Since Armstrong County Commissioners made the decision to explore proposals for the Armstrong County Health Center in Kittanning, residents and employees have had lots of questions and opinions.
And last night’s weekly town hall meeting was no different.
Before a crowd of more than 50 residents and county employees, Commissioners Pat Fabian, Jason Renshaw and George Skamai continued discussions on the topic – including with potentially-affected Health Center staffers.
Union President Jackie Kamer – who has worked in Environmental Services for 12 years – estimated more than 30 employees filled Worthington-West Franklin Fire Hall in opposition of selling the building to a potential buyer.
“I’m opposed to any sale of the Health Center,” Kamer said. “Out of our 60-some thousand people, sooner-or-later they’re going to be senior citizens. They could be a family member (or) they could be a friend, (and) they’re going to need somewhere to be taken care of when someone cannot take care of them any longer.
“If it privatized, the quality of care goes down. They can also deny community members, who have invested their taxes, their time. Where’s there another County Home willing to accept those residents that spent their life building this community?”
Kamer added that employees are willing to work with the County and have ideas on how to cut costs.
“We’re hoping (commissioners) are as sincere as (employees) are to do that.”
For more than an hour, commissioners addressed the topic – first brought up by Sylvester Travis, of North Buffalo Township (who has a daughter that works at the facility and was concerned about rumors about the facility.
“We care about those jobs there – we do not want those jobs to go anywhere,” Commissioner Chair Pat Fabian reiterated. “If you haven’t heard anything out of our mouths, it’s not happening.
Social Worker Ashleah Firment, of Kittanning, said the rumors are affecting her job – with phone calls daily and regular emails from worried family members.
“If we have something important to tell you, we’ll tell you,” Renshaw added. “Trust us – the care for the people there and the jobs is our utmost concern. If you don’t get a direct letter or phone call from (the commissioners), it’s a rumor.”
Commissioners said they can also stipulate that employees remain with the sale, along with the beds, and deny any bid that is received.
Jane Travis said taxpayers should have the final say in what happens at the facility.
While the County is accepting and exploring the possible sale, Commissioner Renshaw said the trio is still “considering all avenues” to reduce the annual funding deficit – which in nearing $1 million this year and might eclipse $1.4 million next year due largely to low Medicaid reimbursement rates.
“I think we could live with a $200,000, $300,000 (or) maybe a $400,000 deficit, but when the numbers are approaching $1 million dollars, we need to have some serious conversation about some serious changes,” Fabian said.
Commissioner Renshaw estimated the County has invested about $9 million per year into the Health Center – which was owned by the State of Pennsylvania until the Redevelopment Authority purchased it for $1 per state legislation. Commissioners, who will then purchase it from that group rather than the $850,000 price tag the State was asking, are currently awaiting the deed for the building.
“It’s really tough to do anything if you don’t own the building,” Renshaw said.
Commissioners and Executive Director of Administration Dan Lucovich estimated it would take an additional two mills to satisfy the current budget deficit – before any much-needed renovations.