The Montgomery County Commissioners on Thursday authorized a Request for Proposals to privatize the county's senior assisted-living facility, Parkhouse, Riverview & Montgomery Meadows.

The commissioners stipulated that bidders should have experience in the senior-care industry and in this type of public-to-private transfer, which is becoming common nationwide.  Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro said only 28 of the state's 67 counties still operate their own nursing homes.

Shapiro and Commissioner Bruce Castor said the confidence of residents, loved ones and employees is their primary concern, and they won't approve any sale unless the company can prove it will maintain the county's high level of care.

"We are a five-star facility, and we want to make sure that remains the case," Shapiro said.

"I am very reluctant to go down the privatization road on this issue because this is an area where we've excelled," Castor said, recalling a similar privatization effort under the previous administration that was "bungled beyond belief."  He voted in favor of the RFP Thursday but said he would oppose a sale unless he's "totally convinced residents will receive the same level of care."

The facility has nearly 500 beds and more than 700 full-time and part-time employees.  It's a $46 million-a-year operation, but much of the cost is reimbursed through state and federal funds and resident fees.  The county's cost to operate the facility is usually $2 million to $3 million, but in some years has been as high as $7 million, said county CFO Uri Monson.

The Parkhouse campus in Upper Providence Township encompasses three facilities -- Parkhouse Providence Pointe, which offers both short-term rehabilitation and long-term residential care; Montgomery Meadows, which offers independent living suites; and Riverview, which provides adult day health care.

The Parkhouse RFP is part of an ongoing effort to re-evaluate the county's real estate portfolio.  A similar RFP is underway for One Montgomery Plaza, the county headquarters in Norristown.  And on Thursday, the commissioners accepted a bid to sell the Human Services Center in Norristown.