Lycoming County commissioners mull funding to aid ManorCare residents
Lycoming County commissioners want to do what they can to help nursing home residents looking to relocate from a facility where people have been infected and died from coronavirus.
But questions remain over funding needed to transfer and care for patients in a hotel in the short term.
Should the county, in fact, fulfill a funding request from Center for Independent Living North Central Pennsylvania of $250,000 to offset patient care for ManorCare Jersey Shore residents?
“We have been asked that by several people,” County Commissioner Scott Metzger said. “These are citizens of our county. We have to try and help them. It’s a serious matter.”
Metzger said taxpayers should be reimbursed for any county allocation, however.
The plan calls for the Center for Independent Living to front the costs for residents to move to a hotel for care.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is to allocate $65,000 for hotel costs and meals with Liberty Group CEO Dan Klingerman covering any shortfall to ensure the plan.
If the FEMA money doesn’t become available, what then?
County officials conceded that could create an issue.
“I have no assurances that we will get reimbursed,” Commissioner Tony Mussare said. “First of all, we haven’t given any money so there is no reimbursement.”
Mussare said he’d still like to see more information about the plan to move ManorCare residents.
“The Department of Health should have stepped in there a long time ago. Plus, it’s a private business,” he said. “It’s unfortunate what has happened and it’s sad.”
Mussare said he has not heard from people asking the county to get people out of ManorCare.
Rather, he’s heard from those who feel it’s not the county’s responsibility to intervene.
“Out of compassion, I’d like to help, but I’m not hearing that outcry,” he said.
Mirabito said he’s very conscious of how county dollars are spent.
“But I also think our responsibility is the general welfare of the public. We use general funds for the golf course and other things. I’m not saying we use an unlimited amount or not seek reimbursement,” he said. “In this situation, where time is of the essence and lives are in balance, we need to take steps. If that means using general fund dollars, then do it.”
Metzger said it is certainly the role of county government to intervene in public safety instances such as the ManorCare situation.
“Again, it’s complicated because some people want to stay there. We have a responsibility to make sure our citizens are safe,” he said. “The Department of Health should be more involved. There are still a lot of questions to answer. When it comes to human life, we want to ensure that wherever they go they are receiving the care and help they need.”
Mirabito likened the ManorCare problem to that of a natural disaster.
“If this was a flood, no one would question the need for county government to intervene. This is an emergency management issue,” he said. “Do we just sit back and do nothing? I don’t think so. That is not what we are about as a community.”
Mirabito said he doesn’t feel as if county intervention will set a precedent, opening up the door to people asking for funding whenever they encounter health problems or other issues of need.
“We aren’t just talking about intervening whenever anyone has a health issue. There is a Declaration of Emergency here,” he said.
Metzger said there is always that possibility of more people coming forward to ask for county help for other problems.
But he noted that ManorCare presents a public safety issue and county intervention could result in helping save lives.
“Again, this is an isolated situation,” he said. “It’s a concern as to how much the infection has spread throughout the home. There is no ‘easy’ here. We are going to continue to do what is best for every citizen in this county.”
As yet, commissioners have not approved funding.
Melissa Melewsky, legal counsel with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said commissioners are bound by law to publicly vote on such issues, despite the State of Emergency having been declared.
“I hear that kind of argument all the time,” she said. “Nothing about State of Emergency removes the need to go for a vote.”