SEBRING — Rather than cutting a ribbon, The Palms of Sebring and The Trousdale Foundation Inc. tied one, so to speak.

Staff from both organizations unfurled a banner Wednesday afternoon that stated “Better Together,” to signify the start of a partnership that will transfer ownership and operations of The Palms from the for-profit Covington Senior Living LLC to The Trousdale Foundation, a non-profit organization in Cleveland, Tennessee.

Covington owner Ted McMullan said it was “bittersweet,” but also not, given that The Palms would be turned over to the foundation of Tom Johnson, a man he has known a long time, who would run The Palms as part of the largest private group of non-profit senior housing.

“Covington was not at the creation (of The Palms),” McMullan said, “but I feel like so much a part of the a fabric of this community from the beginning.”

He recalled his arrival during a torrential downpour 18 years ago, and said he does also arrive during sunny weather, and hoped the change would also continue the sunny days for The Palms, which has done better over the years.

Johnson, who has the distinction of formerly playing center for the University of Tennessee football team, said “that and $5 will get you Starbucks.”

He still loves football, he said, “but yesterday is yesterday,” and he wants to focus on today.

He said we are dependent as infants and children, but interdependent is a better arrangement — like a marriage — where two can do more than one. He sees The Palms partnership in that light, and welcomes its return to nonprofit status.

“I don’t think health care should be delivered by for-profit,” Johnson said, “because (investors) want to maximize your return.”

To make profit, Johnson said, “someone has to suffer,” and in senior health care, that would be the residents.

He thinks The Palms already provides excellent care and community to its people.

“I don’t think there is any (facility) in the country that is nicer and better than this facility right here,” Johnson said.

One big advantage for The Palms, he said, will be back-office functions, such as fundraising and accounting, handled through a subsidiary of the company, Senior Living Support Services Inc., also based out of Tennessee.

Senior Living Support Services officials, CEO David Craig and Vice President Alice Marie Clark Danks, talked to residents and employees briefly about how the company will be able to streamline functions for The Palms.

Christin Rose, Johnson’s daughter and board chair for The Trousdale Foundation, was also on hand for the ribbon tying, along with Sebring Mayor John Shoop, The Palms board members Paul Staik and Paul Devlin, The Palms Executive Director Chevonne Foster, officials from both AdventHealth Sebring and the Highlands Regional Medical Center, as well as members of the Highlands County Office of Economic Development.

Economic Development officials were instrumental in enlisting the Highlands County Board of County Commission to sign off on a $45 million bond issue to have The Trousdale Foundation purchase The Palms.

Sebring-based attorney J. Michael Swaine of Swaine & Harris P.A., told the county commission last December how The Trousdale Foundation owns and operates a series of adult congregate living facilities, like The Palms, and was working to acquire two to three other facilities in Tennessee and Ohio.

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