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Sharp Nursing Home closing doors

Thursday, February 9, 2006

GOODBYES: Sharp Nursing Home CNAs Carol Malone of Evening Shade, left, and Ruth Burch of Horseshoe Bend reminisce with resident Lillie McKee. McKee said she was born in Jackson County in 1935. McKee, along with all of the home's other residents, will be moving within the month to facilities elsewhere.

With a declining census and funds, the oldest nursing home in Sharp County will close its doors by March 3.

Sharp Nursing Home Administrator Cathey Johnson announced the closing of the 44-year-old facility to the 55 staff members at 9 a.m. Jan. 31, the morning after a special board meeting held in hopes of getting offers to buy or take over the facility. No offers were made.

Family members of the residents were sent letters Feb. 1 giving them 30 days to find placement for their loved ones staying in the 80-bed facility.

"You have to maintain at least 50 residents to float. We haven't had that in quite a while," said Johnson who left her position as director of nursing at Cave City Nursing Home to take the lead position at the home 10 months ago.

As of Jan. 27, the nursing home had 31 residents, with two slated to leave within weeks. The drop resulted in 32-percent occupancy, Johnson said.

The problem began when the home didn't get new residents to replace those who had died, Johnson said. With each resident lost, the nursing home board of directors had less money.

When the facility was opened in 1962, it was the only nursing home in the county. Part of the current building was formed from the old Sidney school. Some of the fixtures in the home are more than 40 years old.

Johnson said she thinks the rural location and lack of modern conveniences contributed to the low census.

"It was not mismanagement," she said, adding that the rules and regulations of long-term care had drastically changed in the last few years.

"We had a lot of people who knew how to stretch our dollars, but there was no room for improvements," she said. "The money just was not there for any of those makeovers that we needed."

The board began looking at closure two years ago, Johnson said. The employees took a 10-percent pay cut to keep the doors open.

"The employees were the ones who kept it open the last couple years," she said. "Some residents have been here over 25 years, but some employees have been here for 30."

Although the pay cut allowed the home to stay open a little while longer, it didn't eliminate the inevitable.

"You're trying to put a Band-Aid on a cut artery. It just doesn't work," she said.

Johnson is laying off employees daily as the patient load decreases. The census had dropped to 13 as of Feb. 3.

The town of Sidney's revenue has been steadily decreasing since Sidney's school consolidated with Cave City, Johnson said.

"This little town, when it lost its school, it lost a lot," she said, adding that the town has had no grocery store or gas station for a couple of years.

The nursing home's vending machines are the only ones in town. The only other business is a post office that operates in a former bank building. Johnson said she wouldn't be surprised if the post office closes as well in the near future.

"This community is going to be devastated," she said. "This was the only industry, the only tax revenue in town."

The board will meet Feb. 7 to determine how to liquidate the home's assets. The Work Task Force Service will be coming to the home to help employees find work elsewhere.

"Nursing is one of those industries that there is always work," Johnson said, adding that she will not leave before the closure.

"I came here in good faith and I'll leave here in good faith," she said.

Sharp County Judge Joe Stidman, a resident of Sidney, said he was saddened by the news of the closing. His mother stayed in the nursing home in 1993. She lived there two months before her death.

Stidman attended the Jan. 31 board meeting. He said he has been told by nursing home officials the nursing home building and land belong to the county, allowing the building to take on another use.

Stidman asked County Assessor Kathy Nix and County Clerk Tommy Estes to look for a deed to the property. After hours of research they found something. Atalee Pounders deeded the Sharp Nursing Home 1.46 acres of land in October 1987. In December 1984 she deeded .70 acres to Sharp County Nursing Home.

"They're still digging, but those are the only deeds I've come up with," Stidman said. "I'm not sure at this point that Sharp County owns the nursing home. I suspect it might, but we can't be sure until we find it on a legal document."

If the county does own the nursing home and its land, the county will have to research the clauses surrounding the deeds to see what the building can and cannot be used for after the closing. County Attorney Larry Kissee will research the issue.

"It's a legal matter and it's above our expertise," he said. "In the meantime let's pray that a miracle would happen and it would stay open."

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