NORRISTOWN The Montgomery County commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to privatize the Parkhouse nursing home complex, which could happen by the end of the year.

Mid-Atlantic Health Care, a Maryland company, will pay $39 million for the Royersford facility and oversee the complex's 500 residents and nonresident clients and 700 full- and part-time employees.

The complex includes three buildings with independent-living apartments, short-term and long-term care, and day services, all for poor elderly residents of Montgomery County.

Commissioners Chairman Josh Shapiro said the sale could be finalized by the end of the year.

"The question before us has been, what is the best way to provide for the best future for Parkhouse, both in the near term and in the long term," Shapiro said during the meeting.

"We know that today, we have a top-quality facility. . . . We also know that under the current structure, we're losing millions of dollars each year, which has to be subsidized by the county's taxpayers," he said.

Those millions represent the difference between the operating cost and money the county gets for Parkhouse services from Medicaid, Medicare, and other sources.

About $11 million of the sale price will pay off debt from years of improvements to the buildings. An additional $5 million will cover employee payout costs, such as unused vacation time. The rest will go into the general fund, said Uri Z. Monson, the county's chief financial officer.

The unanimous vote was a surprise, with Bruce L. Castor Jr. explaining why he decided to support privatizing Parkhouse after initially opposing it.

When commissioners began considering a sale in February, Castor said, he did not think dealing with Parkhouse's high cost was a priority considering other problems in the county.

Many employees and residents also opposed a sale, he said. But after the commissioners examined the offers, visited a facility Mid-Atlantic runs in Philadelphia, and learned that staffers - including Parkhouse administrator Melanie McGarry - had changed their minds about a sale, Castor said, he changed his, too.

Shapiro said Mid-Atlantic's offer was selected because it was the highest and because the company seemed committed to running the complex for the long term. The company also said it would maintain salary and seniority levels. Benefits also should not change drastically, though some employees still are concerned, commissioners said.

Mid-Atlantic said it plans to establish a unit where ailing or recuperating residents can stay and be monitored by medical professionals rather than having to go to a hospital. Commissioner Leslie S. Richards said that was a big plus.