Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge is leasing its two nursing homes to an Asheville-based company.

The health care system will retain ownership of the two facilities of Grace Heights Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Morganton and College Pines Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Rutherford College. But it’s leasing the two facilities operations to SanStone Health and Rehabilitation. Blue Ridge will lease the facilities to SanStone, said Jon Mercer, chief operating officer for Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge.

The two nursing homes will make the 15th and 16th long-term care facilities for SanStone, Dick Stevenson, vice president of SanStone, told The News Herald on Friday.

SanStone and Blue Ridge officials met with employees at the two facilities on Thursday about the change. Mercer said the two facilities have a total of about 250 employees.

Family Night at Grace Heights will be held from 5-7 p.m. May 2 and from 5-7 p.m. on May 7 at College Pines. SanStone staff will be there to answer questions and meet families and residents, according to Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge and SanStone officials.

Letters were mailed to the families or guardians of residents at Grace Heights and College Pines this week, said Anna Wilson, a spokesperson for Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge.

The change will take effect July 1, Stevenson said.

Stevenson said SanStone doesn’t expect any jobs to be lost due to the change.

“Our intention is to retain all staff at their current salaries,” Stevenson said.

He said SanStone is working with Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge to continue employee partnerships, specifically the hospital cafeterias and Phifer Wellness Center.

Stevenson said SanStone officials weren’t aware of Phifer Wellness Center until Thursday during a meeting with employees. He said SanStone will be happy to help subsidize employees of the two nursing facilities being able to continue to use Phifer Wellness.

He said while SanStone will have a separate payroll system it will try to integrate with the hospital system so employees will still be able to have food from the cafeterias payroll deducted.

Stevenson said SanStone also plans to make updates to the facilities, both to the physical facilities as well as technological systems.

He said some of the cosmetic changes to the buildings will include paint, wallpaper and furniture. SanStone also plans to bring electronic medical records programs to the facilities, including physician and pharmacy orders, Stevenson said.

Mercer said SanStone also will bring in vital signs machines.

Stevenson said he believes SanStone can improve the level of service and efficiency with the new technology.

Mercer said the hospital system decided to lease the operation of the two nursing homes after officials were made aware about six months ago of some reimbursement changes. He said the nursing home business has become complicated with billing and regulations and reimbursements continue to decrease.

Mercer said Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge started looking at all of its services, including long-term care facilities.

It was around that time that Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge was introduced to SanStone, Mercer said. He said they believe leasing the operation of the two nursing facilities is the right move for the residents at both because it is SanStone’s specialty.

While SanStone is a long-term care provider, they specialize in rehabilitation for short-stay residents who may be requiring post-operative care or general reconditioning, according to a release from the company.

Founded in 2004, SanStone Health and Rehabilitation has 14 other locations in the state, SanStone is owner-operated. The company’s release about the sale said SanStone has one of the lowest re-hospitalization rates, exceptional customer service, employee satisfaction and survey compliance in North Carolina.

The company release said each of its facilities offer excellent care, comfortable, well-appointed resident rooms, elegant dining rooms, cafes and cozy nooks for residents and families to enjoy.

To learn more about SanStone, visit www.SanStoneHealth.com.

Sharon McBrayer is a staff writer and can be reached at smcbrayer@Morganton.com or at 828-432-8946.

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