How popular was the sale of the Homestead?
In his campaign for re-election in June, Freeholder Phil Crabb highlighted his role in the sale of the Homestead -- the county nursing home -- to a private business. His campaign literature referenced it, as did he in his public appearances.
Unfortunately for Freeholder Crabb, that message worked against him with Republican Party primary voters. We got hold of some polling numbers on the subject which indicate a lot of hostility to the sale. In fact, the decision by the all Republican Freeholder Board to sell the Homestead plunged the favorability of the Freeholder Board down into the 40 percent range -- among Republicans.
To make matters worse for the Sussex GOP and its all-Republican Board, those who support the sale are generally lukewarm about it, while those who oppose the sale do so much more passionately. So the campaign team of Freeholder Crabb was actually driving up turnout against its candidate by highlighting the sale of the Homestead in Crabb's literature.
This could account for Crabb's somewhat anemic showing against a candidate who had given up campaigning and spent no money on lawn signs, campaign literature, direct mail, or radio advertising. In contrast, Freeholder Crabb's campaign spent lavishly on lawn signs, literature, direct mail, robo-calls, and radio ads -- and had the support of the GOP establishment and its elected officials.
What effect this will have on the General Election between incumbent Crabb and challenger Bill Weightman is anyone's guess. It will depend on how it is used and if Freeholder Crabb continues to run on the issue.
Another wrinkle that could be used to disadvantage the incumbent is Sentosa Care LLC, the private company that was allowed to buy the Homestead from the county. This was the subject of a very interesting story by the old Sussex GOP Watchdog:
In a 2012 letter to the editor, published by the Herald, a Newton resident added to this argument:
The company Sentosa Care of Woodmere, N.Y., has made the highest bid for the purchase of the Homestead. The website sentosacare.com lists 17 Sentosa Care affiliated care facilities. The websitewww.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare rates long-term facilities using several criteria. The Sentosa Care facilities received aggregate ratings as follows:
8 much below average -- 47 percent
3 below average -- 18 percent
1 average -- 6 percent
5 above average -- 29 percent
As 65 percent of the current Sentosa Care facilities were rated by Medicare as below average (most much below average), this should be considered when the bid is reviewed. The Homestead's employees and volunteers provided quality care to Sussex County residents for many years. The successor owner should have a track record of providing the same high quality of care.
In a questionnaire regarding the sale of the Homestead and obtained by us, County Administrator John Eskilson could not fully answer this question: "What cost savings did the county achieve as a result of the sale?"
Aside from tax revenue to the county of approximately $45,000 per year, Eskilson could not enumerate the benefits because "some of the cost savings associated with the privatization of staff to not kick in for two years due to a number of factors."
The results of Freeholder Crabb's June 3rd primary election suggest that the residents of Sussex County are still not fully sold on the idea and benefits of the sale of the county's Homestead nursing home. Whether this becomes an issue in the November election only time will tell.