A financially struggling Orangeburg retirement community is shaking up its leadership team in an attempt to save the institution.

Oaks residents hoping sale will be beneficial

The Oaks, which is in the process of being sold to the for-profit The Oaks of Orangeburg LLC, announced late Wednesday in a letter sent to residents and staff that it is bringing in additional resources "to improve service and operations."

The Oaks has hired Kevin Knopf as the new chief executive officer to help with this process. It is one of many personnel moves the retirement facility is implementing during its sale transition period.

The Oaks in deep financial straits with $17 million in debt

Knopf was hired by The Oaks Board of Trustees in June and will begin as the new CEO Aug. 8, according to the July 10 letter signed by outgoing CEO Andy Cox, new owner Clay Fowler and Knopf.

Knopf most recently served as vice president/regional operations director of Lifespace Communities within the Florida market. He was responsible for five continuing-care retirement communities with 2,122 residents and 1,222 employees, the letter states.

Oaks board OKs sale; Orangeburg retirement community being sold to company led by Longwood owner

Knopf also served as executive director of Freedom Plaza Sun City Center in Florida, a 648-unit continuing-care retirement community owned and operated by Brookdale Senior Living.

"While Kevin has over three decades of senior living experience with over two decades at the executive level, you will find that one of his strongest skills is his engagement with those he meets," the letter states.

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Cox, who has served as CEO at The Oaks for four years, has been named the liaison to the board of trustees and will continue to work in this capacity through the transition of the sale. Cox will work with new owner Fowler during the transition and the closing of the sale.

Fowler is also the owner and operator of Orangeburg's Longwood Plantation Assisted Living and Magnolia Place Memory Care.

Attempts to reach Fowler and Cox for details on the sale's impact were unsuccessful.

In addition, Elaine Till, program director of The Oaks Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE, will retire after 32 years. The PACE program is expected to remain operational, according to officials.

Setting the PACE: Pioneering Oaks' seniors program marks 10 years

Begun in 2008, PACE is geared to provide a continuum of care and services for elderly patients with chronic-care needs while allowing them to remain in their homes as long as possible.

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Till also served as The Oaks vice president of medical and supportive services.

"We greatly appreciate all Elaine has contributed to The Oaks during her three decades of service as the first administrator of the Sheffield Health Center and for her many contributions, including starting the PACE program," the letter states.

The Oaks has hired Val Kreil to serve as an interim administrator for Sheffield. A search for a full-time administrator of long-term care will be conducted.

Details on just how much the continuing-care retirement community is struggling financially were revealed in June at the South Carolina United Methodist Annual Conference via a resolution authorizing the sale of the property.

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The resolution noted The Oaks has incurred monthly operating deficits averaging $125,000 for the past six months and that its situation was so dire fears were that it would be unable to have sufficient funding to continue operations until the closing of the sale.

The Oak's debt is $17 million, according to reporting by The South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, a newspaper owned and distributed by the church.

Oaks officials have attributed the debt to typical mortgages and leases as well stock market losses. Recent changes in Medicaid and Medicare funding have also impacted the facility.

The Oaks has an annual operating budget of $22 million.

The sale was approved by the board of The Oaks on April 22 and presented during the S.C. United Methodist Annual Conference.

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The Annual Conference, South Carolina Conference UMC Bishop Jonathan Holston and his cabinet authorized the sale of The Oaks on June 6.

The sale is expected to close in September 2019, according to the resolution.

In the interim, The Oaks as a non-profit corporation will seek funding from the United Methodist Church or other sources to allow it to continue operations until the sale is closed.

Despite the authorized sale and questions about the viability of The Oaks, officials with the church as well as with the new entity have been mum on the sale's impact.

"During the month of August we expect to begin meeting with residents and employees to gather input into what improvements or changes we would like to see in order for The Oaks to become a retirement community and employer of choice," the July 10 letter concludes. "We are excited about the future potential for The Oaks, our residents and our staff. As we move forward, we will continue to keep you updated."

Formerly named The Methodist Oaks, the facility underwent a name change a few years ago and operates as an independent, non-profit corporation. It is not owned by the United Methodist Church but identifies itself as a "United Methodist community."

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.


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