Gates House slow to develop

Published 7:37 am Monday, April 22, 2013

GATESVILLE – As of Tuesday, April 16, exactly one year has passed since Meridian Senior Living revealed its plans to manage a 70-bed adult care facility that will be constructed in the new Merchants Commerce Center located on US 158 across from Gates County High School.

According to the announcement made that day in Gatesville by company officials, construction on the facility was expected to begin in May of this year, and completed within a 12-month period.

However, as of the current time, no soil has been turned on the project. Additionally, as of two weeks ago, no land has been purchased for the facility.

Chuck Brothers, a member of the Gates County Planning Board, brought those facts, and other concerns, before the County Commissioners during their April 3 meeting. He initially addressed comments regarding the facility made at the last commissioners’ meeting (held in March).

“At the end of that meeting during commissioner comments, Commissioner (Jack) Owens gave an abbreviated synopsis of some things and gave some clarification (about the Gates House project),” Brothers said. “I appreciate that, Jack, but along with that I’m an educated person and I would like to become more self educated.

“With Jack’s comments about the senior assisted living center coming, it clicked, my radar engaged,” Brothers added. “I began the process of trying to find some facts. The internet hides nothing. If there is a document to be produced, if you sit at the screen long enough and key in the right phrases you can come up with what you are looking for.”

Brothers said he did exactly that and was able to obtain documents under the home page for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) as well as through a verbal request for documentation via the Freedom of Information Act.

According to his research, Brothers said there were two documents generated on May 2, 2012 by the NCDHHS in regards to Gates Health Investors, Gates House LLC and Meridian Senior Assisted Living. One was a 27-page document (State Agency Findings).

“I did find one particular paragraph very interesting – “Support services that will be made available, including the activities, recreation, beauty/barber services, dentistry services, dietary services, emergency medical services, family support groups, housekeeping/laundry services, and the list goes on and on,” he stated. “Exhibit X (of that document) includes a letter of interest from a registered nurse for consulting services and from a business dealing with food services. Exhibit J includes a letter of interest wishing to enter a transfer agreement between the proposed managements of Meridian Senior Living and Roanoke-Chowan Hospital, Chowan Hospital and Albemarle Hospital.”

He went on to note that the documentation stated the applicants also provided letters of support and referral from the director of the Perquimans County Social Services, the director of the Area Agency on Aging for the Albemarle Commission, Gates County Commissioners, an NC State Senator, an NC State Representative, the Perquimans County Board of Commissioners, and the Pastor of New Middle Swamp Missionary Baptist Church.

“What I found interesting with this particular paragraph is, if this was such an important venue, where is the letter of support from our own Gates County Department of Social Services,” Brothers asked in a puzzling tone.

Brothers stated that the second document, generated the same day, is linked to Chuck White Development, Hickory, NC.

“On this particular document, the state gives a detailed outline as to what, when and where this process was to start,” Brothers said. “On Dec. 2, 2012, a permanent loan was to be executed. On Dec. 2, 2012, a site was to be purchased. Final drawings were to be submitted to the construction section of DHSR on Jan. 15, 2013 and a construction contract awarded on Feb. 6, 2013. The next item to be tapped into, but we have yet to get there, would be May 7 where the building permit is scheduled to be obtained. It ends with the date of October of 2014 where Medicare and Medicaid certification should be granted.”

Brothers added that on Dec. 11, 2012, the county received a document from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. He said it stated that entity had received a partial engineering certification for the Gates County Sewer Collection System.

“What’s interesting about that date is that in November of last year, the State Employees Credit Union office (located in Merchants Commerce Center) was given a conditional certificate of occupancy,” Brothers noted.

Brothers said he spoke with Bernetta Thorne-Williams, a project analyst for the State of North Carolina.

“The second intriguing fact is that on Feb. 15, 2013, Mr. White gave a progress report to the Certificate of Needs section of NCDHHS as to what they were doing,” Brothers said. “That report was, and I quote, ‘the current status of the project is: Gates County is in the process of extending the sewer system to the site. Wastewater treatment plant upgrades are ongoing. Preliminary drawings of Gates House are in progress’.”

Brothers went on to say that the documentation he obtained cited, “the project will be developed to materially comply with the representations made in the Certificate of Need application.”

He added that in the timetable, there is a listing, “to obtain funds necessary to undertake the project.”

“(As of now), Dec. 2 is not filled in; contract awarded on Feb. 6 is not filled in,” Brothers said. “According to this document, they have to be 25 percent complete on this project by Sept. 31 of this year.”

Brothers stressed that while he wasn’t attempting to “throw a kink in anything,” he cited that if this project was such an important part of what the county envisions in the Commerce Center, then, “where is the player at in regards to doing what the documentation says they need to do.”

“If they are going to make this fly, then why haven’t they bought the land,” Brothers inquired. “And according to the (GatesCounty) Register of Deeds, there have been no land transfers for that property in the last 30 days.

“So, my question comes back to ya’ll,” he continued. “Why have they put the liability back on the county in their statement that the sewer system (isn’t ready); it makes it look like they’re waiting on Gates County when the State Employees Credit Union is on line (with sewer services) and the new library came on line within the last 30 days.”

Brothers said he was fully behind this Gates House project, adding that he believes other components will fall in place once the facility opens its doors.

“(Gates House) is projected at 58 employees, certainly they’ll have to look for somewhere to eat,” Brothers observed. “If Gates House partners said they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do, I think the county has the responsibility to the taxpayers to turn the heat up on them a little bit and say, hey, what’s going on?”

In response, Henry Jordan, Chairman of the Gates County Board of Commissioners, said, “We have been in contact with Chuck White. Many of the things you just went over, we’ve talked about. Also, we are perusing trying to get the county in a position that we will be able to support that.”

According to information released by Meridian Senior Living when they announced the selection of GatesCounty as their newest development area, the project is to be a public-private partnership. Financing comes through publically traded Real Estate Investment Trust Funds or with private equity banks that specialize in healthcare real estate projects.

Housing and medical care for those occupants can be paid through Medicaid or private pay.

The 28,000 square foot Gates House will feature the latest style of construction used by Meridian. Double occupancy bedrooms will be offered. The facility also features a full kitchen as well as a dining room, activity room and living room, complete with Internet access. Advanced security measures are a key element of operation. Housing and medical care for those occupants can be paid through Medicaid or private pay.

Meridian is no stranger to the local area. Of the 38 properties owned or managed (or both) by Meridian in North Carolina, eight are in the northeastern part of the state – Ahoskie House, Edenton House, Currituck House, Windsor House, Williamston House, Rich Square Manor, Rich Square Villa and Hampton House in Gaston.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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