2016-03-09 / Health

Philip Mehl is leaving Mountainside after 19 years at longterm care facility

Oversaw facility that earned series of 5-Star ratings
By Joan Lawrence-Bauer

Residents, staff, and community members were saddened last week to learn that Philip Mehl, the popular and successful administrator of Mountainside Residential Care Center has tendered his resignation from the post and that plans are underway by parent company, Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley to sell the facility. Reactions on Facebook were swift and heartfelt, due in part to Mehl’s reputation as both able administrator and compassionate caregiver.

Mehl told the News this week that the “circumstances of my resignation are unique and germane only to me and should not be considered a reflection on the facility or its staff.”

Mehl, who has worked at MRCC for 19 years, the last six as its leader, said he is still looking at options and has not made a final decision about his future, but will be leaving his current post in the middle of April. In addition to working at MRCC, Mehl has served as a consultant to others in the industry, an activity that will continue in the near future.

‘Short-term’ position

Having moved to Kingston with his family years ago, Mehl, a social worker by training, was looking for a job. Not realizing just how far Margaretville was from Kingston, he jumped at the chance to work as the Director of Residential and Family Services.

“I figured I’d do it a couple years, then find something closer to home,” he told the News this week. “I fell in love with the place and just stayed,” he added.

A born leader, Mehl was encouraged by management to move into an administrator’s role. “It was not something I ever thought about or considered until they recruited me,” said Mehl, “but I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to become an administrator.”

By all accounts, it was a tough start. The facility faced staffing and regulation issues fueled by high turnover and low morale. And by all accounts, Mehl’s influence changed that. Today, the facility has earned a five-star rating for seven straight years and is the only nursing home in New York State that has met the criteria for leadership standing in the Health Equality Index, which is a benchmarking tool that evaluates health care facilities on their equity and inclusion of LGBT patients, visitors and employees.

Mehl is happy to showcase an art gallery he created and donated to the facility.

Filled with art

“We live in a community of artists and many of our residents are artists,” he said. The works they have produced while here adorn the walls of the gallery, and reflect the person-centered care for which Mehl is an advocate. “We put up tarps in their rooms, get them the art supplies they need, and encourage them to continue with the type of work they did before they came here,” said Mehl. “Do they make a mess sometimes? Sure. But that’s what they’d be doing at home so that’s what they do here.”

But asked about what he sees as his most important accomplishment, Mehl pointed to the culture change than makes people take pride in the facility. “Where we excel in the culture we’ve built is that no matter what position, what department, every staff member show up here eager to do a good job.” The five-star ratings the facility has compiled put it in the top 10 percent of nursing homes around the country, a factor that will be important to the future of facility. “We have raised the bar incredibly high by working well together, by taking pride and caring deeply. People are here because they want to be here and nobody wants to be viewed as the negative voice in the room.”

Mehl went on to say that the employees who raised the bar are the ones who now keep it up there. “We expect a lot of each other and a lot of ourselves,” says Mehl. “And the patients feel it. We hear every day, ‘I felt it the minute I walked through the door,’ and people are coming from far away places to live in this environment.”

Asked if rumors of the sale of MRCC had contributed to his departure, Mehl acknowledged it was part of the thought process. “I have to look at the whole picture,” said Mehl. “We’ve built a Cadillac here and I’m really proud of it. A change in ownership would be hard.”

Sale is possible

Asked about the potential sale of MRCC, Health Alliance of the Hudson Valley President and CEO Dave Scarpino said it’s a possibility. “We’re in a real dilemma right now,” Scarpino said. The nursing home struggles to operate because the number of Medicaid patients we serve creates deficits. Right now, there is a tremendous buying spree in the nursing home industry and if someone else can operate it more efficiently and effectively than we can, we have to consider that.”

Scarpino said that Health Alliance has received a number of different offers to purchase MRCC and weighs each one on two factors. “We look at the price they want to pay and the quality of care they are known to provide,” said Scarpino. “Phil did an incredible job earning those five star ratings and now the community expects that level of care. We are not going to sell the facility to some entity who only provides level one care.”

Delicate balance

Scarpino said the sale has not been mandated and that they have already rejected at least one bid offer. “There’s a delicate balance we’re looking for; a buyer who will pay an appropriate price and provide an appropriate level of care,” he said.

Scarpino added that, “even if we sell it, we’ll still have an interest because we’ll be operating the hospital right next door. It’s in everyone’s interest for us to maximize both price and quality and continue meeting the community expectations.” Scarpino did not elaborate on how Mehl’s position will be filled.

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