By Submitted Story on April 13, 2021
(Editor’s Note: From time to time, the Voice publishes open letters from members of the community on a subject of public interest. This letter is written by an employee of the Dare County Home Health and Hospice Agency)
The debate of keeping things small & local vs. big & profitable is no stranger to the Outer Banks. The residents of this sandbar face these questions every day. What stores should we support? What kind of jobs do we want to work? How do we want our tax dollars spent? Unfortunately, this debate has come a little too close to home for many. The fight for the future of Dare County’s Home Health and Hospice (HH&H) agency is currently in full swing. And there is a public hearing scheduled on the matter on April 19 at 5 p.m.
We’ve heard that the agency has been losing money in past years and have had trouble hiring and retaining staff, but no one is talking about or even asked, why?. If the agency isn’t making the money they think it should be, then why hasn’t anyone tried to make changes before now? The numbers that are brought up in meetings do not have any of the nuances for the struggle this agency has been dealing with for years.
As one HH&H nurse put it: “If some of the changes that have been openly expressed by the staff had been made sooner, more of the good nurses we had could have been saved.”
We who currently work at HH&H agree that structural changes need to be made. It can not continue running as it has been, and no one thinks that it should. Employees have been asking for the same changes again and again. Where was the sentiment — “we care about our employees” — when nurse after nurse left for the same reasons? If the needed changes to the agency can be made, and the staffing brought back to a functioning level, then there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that this agency can thrive again.
The HH&H agency works because we are the county. Our patients are our neighbors, friends, and family. No for-profit corporation is going to take a patient who doesn’t have insurance, or any other method of payment, just because they know how badly the patient needs help, but a county agency will. That is why it is vital it be kept in the county, to serve all the residents of the county.
COVID has hit everyone hard. When everyone was shutting down, stopping services, and closing doors, HH&H kept working. Our nurses have risked their lives and the lives of their loved ones at home throughout this entire pandemic. They have put themselves in danger every single day that they’ve worked. While others worked from the safety of their own homes, the HH&H nurses walked straight into the uncertainty of other peoples homes and continued services even without being able to properly protect themselves. They’ve lacked PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and other protective gear for the majority of last year. Coming out now and saying that this agency will be sold to the highest bidder is a complete disservice to everyone involved — employee and county resident alike.
The talks to look into the agency started back in December. Originally it was presented as either the board agreeing to increase the funding so that new nurses could be hired (and kept) and needed changes could be made, or they would look into the possible sale of the agency. However, as we have seen in the board meeting on April 7, the talks have completely been taken over and dominated by selling off the agency. It is now entirely a debate over which buyer they want to sell to. There was no talk anywhere about the option of keeping HH&H within the county and increasing the budget to get where we need to be. That wasn’t even suggested. Only squabbling over which bid to accept. In the commissioners minds, the decision seems to have already been made. The public deserves to know this is happening.
The 2.9 million dollar bid was a game changer. The board members have dollar signs in their eyes, and that leaves room for little else. Mr. Outten has said that they can’t ask, or expect, taxpayers to pay for an agency that isn’t making money. That statement is hollow to any Dare County resident who has been paying attention to where their tax dollars are being spent. How many taxpayers have spoken up that they do not want the county to spend 99 million taxpayer dollars on beach nourishment? A process that needs to be done year, after year. How many taxpayers have spoken against their tax dollars going to nourish the beaches in Duck, when they can’t even walk to those beaches without the fear of being arrested? How many taxpayers questioned the purchase of Mako Mike’s restaurant for 1.95 million dollars? How many times have the taxpayers said they don’t want more tourist attractions, but instead want affordable housing? Something that is desperately wanted and needed so that year round residents can afford to live here, and families who have been on the beach for generations don’t get priced out of their homes. So I do not believe that the board can’t go to the taxpayers and ask if they’d be willing to let their tax dollars be spent on a healthcare agency who helps the sick and dying.
The end of the county’s fiscal year is coming up quickly. I’m sure they would like to have this issue over and done with before then. The Letter of Intent with BrightSpring is non-binding. Meaning that either party can back out of the deal. However, the board has made little-to-no indications that they intend to reject their offer. Only a strong outcry from the public, from the residents of Dare County, could be impactful enough to change this current course of action. There are those of us trying to raise that outcry for the upcoming public hearing. I pray that we succeed. Home Health and Hospice is an important asset to the people who live on the Outer Banks. Whether for your family, your friends, or for yourself. Everyone at one point will need a service like this. What kind of service do you hope it will be?
Give the Home Health and Hospice agency the chance it deserves. Help us to show that the employees and the residents of Dare County are more important than the money being offered. The board of commissioners have put a price tag on our jobs and on this county’s elderly care. What a loss for the county it will be if this is allowed to happen.
An employee of the Dare County Home Health and Hospice Agency
Share and sign the online petition: https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-home-health-and-hospice