WINTERS — The Winters Healthcare Residence at 506 Van Ness Street has been conducting damage control after many recent issues ranging from payroll problems, to vendors not being paid and to finding a new medical director.

Tina Dear, the Regional Marketing Director for Concord Healthcare, which owns the nursing home, and Gay Herring, the director of the nursing home, held a town hall meeting on Tuesday, July 17, to update everyone on the current challenges facing the nursing home. The meeting lasted well over an hour and they did their best to clear up the muddy water surrounding the recent events.

The previous medical director, Dr. Mark McKinnon, is alleged to have resigned from his position and discharged the patients from his care without notice. Concord brought in a doctor from one of their other facilities to oversee the patient care. The rift between Concord and the previous medical director runs deep. There were issues of him not being paid on time, which turned out to be a problem with all of the employees of the nursing home. There were also failures to pay nursing home vendors, which caused frustration with some local businesses.

To complicate matters, employee paychecks bounced on more than one occasion and it was to the point where local businesses would not cash their payroll checks. To address this issue, Concord transported employees to Abilene to cash their checks. They also covered any bank fees or other fees associated with the bounced paychecks.

“As soon as we were notified of the payroll issue, we cut new checks for the employees,” said Dear, who reassured the employees that their payroll problems were a thing of the past.

The vendor pay problems, however, had been an ongoing issue for three months before Concord was able to get it under control. Dear wants the community to know, “We were using an accounts payable service and there were some challenges. Once we, Concord, discovered the problems, we decided to start our own billing in-house. We trained our employees, worked out the details and now we make the payments ourselves, rather than using the service.”

The nursing home recently needed some air conditioner work so Concord sent the money and had the vendor paid in advance to assuage any concerns.

The employees of the nursing home are passionate about their work and seem to be genuinely fond of the residents. One employee got up and spoke as she broke down in tears at the end of the meeting because she wanted people to know how much they care about their residents and how hurtful some of the misinformation has been to them, “We love our residents. We know them and we know their families, the rumors are unfair and we know things are headed in the right direction,” said the employee.

Dear addressed the assembled group of residents and family members.

“On the same day, the previous medical director sent us two letters, one resigning his position and one the letter discharging the patients from his care,” Dear said. “We had to find another doctor ASAP, which we did. We have tried to get a meeting with the former medical director to find out what happened, but unfortunately we have been successful. To be clear, our patients do have a doctor overseeing their care and we are addressing any other concerns.”

According to Dear and Herring, when they went to visit with the previous medical director, they waited 45 minutes and he refused to see them. While they say that they aren’t 100 percent certain of what the problem is, they believe it has to do with something that transpired between him and their corporate offices, information that they say that they are not privy to. Dear and Herring were quick to point out again that the care of their patients did not suffer due to the resignation.

Dear also addressed concerns over the nursing home closing down.

“Winters nursing home is strong,” Dear said. “When Concord bought the Winters nursing home, it bought several other nursing homes. One of the stipulations was that they would not close any of the nursing homes. There are no plans, whatsoever, to close the Winters nursing home.”

Herring endorsed the idea that the nursing home is doing fine.

“Winters nursing home is strong,” Herring said.

Rumors of the nursing home closing down have spread like wildfire, even to the point of other nursing homes wanting to come in and interview residents for a possible move to their facility.

“We are not closing down,” Dear added. ”For another nursing home to just show up to talk to our residents, based on inaccurate rumors, is wrong, absolutely wrong.”

The meeting was very open and the meat of the situation, the numbers, were laid on the table by both Dear and Herring. The Winters nursing home requires 27 residents to break even every month. They currently have 20 residents because four moved or were moved to other facilities by family members once rumors of the nursing home closing hit the community. A few potential new residents are being screened at this time.

Dear said that moving an elderly resident can be traumatic, especially if they are suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“When a resident has been here for a while, they get used to their surroundings, to the staff, to the schedule and to the a routine,” Dear said. “It’s comfortable to them. Particularly, if someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia, and you just up and move them, it can cause them to become seriously ill. It stresses them mentally and physically and that can cause their health to deteriorate rapidly. Moving a resident based solely on rumors can be unnecessarily harmful.”

While the nursing home is presently losing money, Dear and Herring stated that the facility is financially stable due to Concord corporate offices continuing to fund it until it can bring in more residents and resolve any remaining issues.

“Winters Healthcare is a strong facility, with a caring, nurturing staff, who are dedicated to supporting our local community with their skilled nursing or long term care needs,” Dear said. “We are looking forward to working with the community on becoming the preferred skilled facilities for the Winters community. We are here for them.”

Only time will tell what happens to the Winters nursing facility. If they get their census up to the required 27 people to break even every month then it will almost certainly remain open. If it doesn’t get the additional people in then it might be just a matter of time until Concord has to make some tough decisions regarding the facility. As for now, things seem to be moving in the right direction and they are addressing their issues openly and with transparency.