Burlington County-owned nursing home gets one bid at auction

    Ocean Healthcare of Lakewood, N.J., submitted the sole bid Thursday to buy Buttonwood Hospital, a nursing home and psychiatric facility run by Burlington County.

    After having nearly a dozen companies tour the facility prior to the auction, it was disappointing to get just one bid at the opening price of $15 million, said Ralph Shrom, spokesman for the Burlington County freeholders.

    “We would have liked to have seen more competition,” Shrom said.

    The county put Buttonwood up for sale because it has been losing money for years and would require $50 million in taxpayer subsidies over the next decade to stay afloat.

    The president of the union representing Buttonwood employees, which has been against the sale of the facility since it was announced, said the county should look for ways to make the home profitable instead of selling it.

    “There is no new compelling reason to go ahead with the sale,” Adam Liebtag said. “The price was not driven up by a competitive bidding process. They only got their bare minimum bid.”

    Ocean Healthcare owns one assisted-living facility and 13 nursing homes in New Jersey, including the one Mercer County sold recently.

    The company said it plans to make Buttonwood profitable by attracting more short-term rehabilitation patients because their care comes with higher reimbursement rates.

    Joan Brochu, a Buttonwood resident for six years, said she is concerned privatization will reduce the high quality of care she has come to expect there.

    “I hope we can keep our workers here, that’s the main thing,” Brochu said. “I’ve been in five other private nursing homes that I’ve had trouble in, so it doesn’t leave a good taste in my mouth.”

    Rules of the sale dictate all current residents must remain in place, 80 percent must be county residents, and a new owner must maintain at least 60 percent Medicare or Medicaid for the first 10 years.

    Currently, about 85 percent of patients are covered by Medicaid.

    Freeholders said they expect to make a decision whether to accept the bid in two to four weeks.

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