GUYSBOROUGH – As of 1:01 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, the Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) was out of the nursing home business. That’s when a deal to sell Milford Haven Home for Special Care in Guysborough and Seaside Manor in Canso to GEM Health Care Group closed.
GEM Health Care is a Nova Scotian, family-run business operating long-term care and retirement living facilities throughout the province and Ontario.
In an interview Monday (Jan. 18), MODG Warden Vernon Pitts said council wanted to get away from managing nursing homes because it lacks the expertise needed to continue doing so.
“First and foremost is the municipality has no know-how about running a business of that sort. We are municipal councillors here; public works, wastewater management, etc., we can handle that, but when you get into healthcare, with nursing and other practitioners, that is outside of our realm.
“Back in the day we had to get into it to get the nursing home up and running,” he said of when the municipality partnered with the province to establish Milford Haven. It took ownership of Seaside Manor in Canso with municipal amalgamation in 2012. The warden was chair of the board overseeing the two homes.
He said the municipality chose GEM because of its expertise and ability to address any staff shortages.
“They can draw from a pool of really highly trained individuals,” he said. “They can address any shortages. They are top notch from what I have seen to date.”
GEM has 2800 employees, 2200 of them in N.S.
In agreeing to sell the homes, Pitts said the two main priorities were ensuring a high level of care for residents and looking after the 125 full and part-time/casual employees at the two homes.
“Our employees should see absolutely no change and residents shouldn’t see any change except perhaps an enhanced level of service. Recruitment of healthcare professionals is a daunting task at the best of times, especially with our rural location.”
The pandemic added to that challenge over the past year.
“Looking back over past two years … our board was faced with maybe shutting down a wing of the home [Milford Haven] because we couldn’t find a director of nursing. The recourse would have been to transfer some residents to another facility.”
Pitts said GEM would be able to take staff from other places to avoid such a shutdown.
“[The staff] are our friends, neighbours and family members. We didn’t want them to be hurt in any way. We were assured that all current positions will remain filled, and at the same rate of pay. Once we had that addressed, price wasn’t a big concern. It was more about looking after residents and employees.
“We toured [GEM’s] facilities in the Halifax area,” Pitts said. “They were state-of-the-art. The equipment, staffing … I was so impressed; it was so personalized to each individual. It really blew me away.”
Barry Carroll, CAO at MODG, told The Journal GEM is “at the forefront in technology and other areas, such as food preparation and wound care. They’re a top-notch firm.”
Carroll said councillors were not able to have public consultations on the potential sale because of the need to keep the selection process and negotiations “commercially confidential” until the transfer was complete.
The warden said council has been looking at getting out of the nursing home business for the past eight to 10 years.
In a news release about the sale, MODG said: “Back in 2012, the Council of the day initiated the research and examination phase that eventually led to Council starting a formal process in January of 2019. After an extensive RFP undertaking, the list was narrowed to four potential suitors, and eventually a decision was made to negotiate the transfer of assets to GEM Health Care Group.”
“GEM gave us a certain level of comfort,” said Pitts. “When I retire, and if I need someone to look after me, this is one of the places where I would like to spend my last years.”
He said MODG has helped the two facilities with various needs over the years, such as IT services and projects under the municipality’s Green Fund.
“I look forward to continuing that going forward,” he said. “Let’s develop a relationship.”
GEM’s CEO, Syed Hussain, said the company is “proud to welcome the skilled and dedicated professionals at Milford Haven Home for Special Care and Canso Seaside Manor to the GEM Family. We look forward to working with our new team members and will continue to provide the same high standard of care to the residents who call these two facilities their home.”
“I want to thank our dedicated and loyal staff for being who they are; we appreciate that so much,” said Pitts. “They have always had a special place in my heart and will continue to have that.”
Attempts to reach GEM's CEO for further comment Tuesday were unsuccessful by press time.