Opponents of a proposed nursing home off Capital Boulevard testified last week that Wake County already is well served and does not need a new facility.
Universal Health Care wants to build a $10 million, 119-bed nursing home, saying the area’s growing population demands more services for seniors.
But lawyers for two competing Wake County nursing homes don’t think the company has made its case.
Ruth Levy and Joy Heath of Heath Law Firm work with Hillside Nursing and Rehabilitation of Wake Forest and are counsel to an approved project, BellaRose Nursing and Rehab Center Inc.
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In comments at a public hearing Wednesday on the project, they said the average occupancy rate for existing nursing homes shows Universal’s proposal is unnecessary.
It will be up to state regulators who control the number of beds across North Carolina to sort out what’s really needed in one of the fastest-growing areas of the county.
Universal wants to relocate the number of beds it is permitted to have at its other facilities to reach the 119-bed mark at the new nursing home.
Those beds would come from the company’s Litchford Falls Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Raleigh and from its nursing homes in other counties.
To bolster its proposal, Universal points to a state finding that Wake will be short 544 nursing home beds in 2017.
But the same finding also lists the county’s nursing home occupancy rate at 85 percent, short of the 90 percent that triggers a determination of need by the state.
Gerry Boyle, a consultant on Universal’s project, said the county’s overall occupancy rate doesn’t tell the whole story of what an area requires.
At Litchford, for example, the occupancy rate for 90 nursing beds is at 93 percent, Boyle said.
He predicts the “vast majority” of patients would move to the new facility under the company’s proposal, which won the approval of the residents’ council at Litchford. The move from Litchford, coupled with the area’s growth, makes him confident the facility would easily hit the 90 percent threshold.
“We’re trying to make the best use of Wake County’s facilities,” he said.
But Heath said the occupancy findings make clear that a new facility is superfluous. She also said the methodology for determining bed need may overestimate what’s needed because it relies on statewide use rather than Wake County-specific data.
“New beds should not be brought into the county,” she said.
Wake County does not have regulatory oversight of nursing homes and looks to the state for relevant statistics, said Craig Burrus, Wake’s program manager for senior and adult services.
Anecdotally, he said, the department often has trouble finding enough nursing home beds, especially for patients who are using Medicare or Medicaid benefits.
The county has not endorsed Universal’s proposal to bring beds from other counties because officials don’t know how it would affect those counties, Burrus said.