After a nearly 2-hour long public meeting that began in confrontation, moved into catharsis, and ended in general consensus, the Crawford City Council last night decided not to continue talks with a company interested in leasing the Ponderosa Villa nursing home and to instead work more closely with the Villa board on a management crisis.
Along the way, long-standing disputes – some personal – and distrust came to the surface with many proving to be more the result of a lack of communication and misunderstanding more than anything else.
City-owned but run by an independent board, the Ponderosa Villa has contracted with Nebraska-based Rural Health Development for management services since 2010 with the administrator a company employee. Last month, administrator Stephanie Huffman gave her 30 day notice and RHD its 60-day termination notice.
Looking for alternatives, Mayor Connie Shell talked with the Senex Foundation of Nebraska, a Colorado-based for-profit arm of a Florida company that had contacted the city last October after RHD had made a strong public plea for public support and manpower to deal with significant financial and cash flow problems.
Senex President Mitch Freidman attended last night’s session, described by Mayor Shell as a “meet and greet” of sorts, but he and the company were attacked almost immediately by Ponderosa Villa board members, employees, and supporters as a threat to the Villa’s status as a key part of the community with a family atmosphere.
Senex now leases the nursing home in Bridgeport and Villa backers bombarded Friedman with allegations of fighting with the local hospital and vendors, including dropping both local pharmacies for one in Colorado. Many came in a letter from the nursing home’s former director of nursing, who blasted company management.
Friedman denied the accusations, explaining how several situations had been badly distorted by rumors. Later in the meeting, he said Senex had just been looking to help Crawford and Ponderosa Villa, but that it was obvious the community wasn’t ready to lease the facility.
At different points in the evening, council members accused the Villa board of not keeping them updated on the facility’s problems, board members said the council always seemed to be threatening to oust them, and Villa supporters complained the city wasn’t willing to provide assistance such as reducing its water bill.
Eventually, all sides appeared to come to the conclusion that many of their fears and complaints come from a lack of communication, compounded by misunderstanding, misconceptions, and rumors in the community.
Villa Administrator Huffman explained she needs the health insurance benefits that come with the job and resigned because she was afraid a lack of city support might lead to the facility closing. RHD’s notice it was terminating its contract was described as the result of it not having anyone to replace Huffman.
All sides made it clear they’d love to have Huffman come back, but she said because of the uncertainty she had interviewed for an accepted another position.
Mayor Shell said she was trying to reach RHD CEO Ron Ross to see if he would hold off on terminating the company’s contract for 6 months while all options were reviewed.
A suggestion to create a steering committee with members from the Ponderosa Villa board, the city council, the community, and rural residents – who by law can’t serve on the board – drew strong verbal support, but any specifics will need to be worked out by the council and the board.