Critical Discussion

To sell the Chautauqua County Nursing Home is a two-part question: Whether to sell it, and whether to sell it to potential purchaser William Avi Rothner.

That was the general consensus by four legislators Monday evening. Larry Barmore, R-Gerry; William Coughlin, D-Fredonia; Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown; and Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point, each spoke during the second of The Prendergast Library’s Critical Discussion Series.

The four were called upon to discuss the sale of the County Home, which has been a topic among legislators for more than a year. According to County Executive Greg Edwards, the home would lose approximately $9,000 per day, if $1.6 million from the county – which is matched by federal funding – in Intergovernmental Transfer Funding was not available.

The county commissioned Chicago-based marketing firm Marcus and Millichap to market the home in December 2011. In July 2012, the firm came back with two potential qualified buyers: Rothner who offered $16.5 million cash upon closing and Israel Sherman, CEO of Absolut Care Facilities Management, LLC, East Aurora, who submitted a lease offer of $1.6 million a year with a purchase option at any time of $16 million.

Since the July report, Edwards has moved forward with the proposal from Rothner. However, no vote has occurred by legislators on whether to sell the home. In order to sell the County Home, two-thirds of the legislators’ votes would be required. The supermajority vote stems from a county local law dating back to 1975, which requires a two-thirds vote for sales of real property owned by Chautauqua County.

During Monday’s discussion, Barmore and Horrigan seemed in favor of selling the home, while Cornell and Coughlin demonstrated hesitations regarding the potential buyer.

“The questions I present are two-fold,” Coughlin said. “Number one, do we want to sell the home? Do they have the votes necessary to sell the home? That’s the first vote they needed to take. Now, the next vote if you’re going to sell the home, is ‘Do you want to sell it to William Avi Rothner?’ There are two separate issues.”

Horrigan pointed out that other homes owned by Rothner have improved in ratings since being taken over. Horrigan took it upon himself to contact facilities in Arizona and Nebraska, which are currently owned by Rothner. In the cases of these two homes, Horrigan said, the ratings rose from one star to four and three stars, respectively.

Additionally, Barmore stated that there are people who feel strongly on both sides of whether to sell the home.

“Basically, what we have is two differences of opinion on the function of government when it comes to the County Home,” he said. “I don’t really feel that there is anything wrong with either point of view. One point of view says that it is the government’s responsibility and job to operate a county nursing home … The other side of the coin says that the nursing home is something government shouldn’t be in and tax dollars shouldn’t be spent on.”

For her part of the conversation, Cornell opted to show a portion of a video, created by Roy and Karen Harvey of Mayville, entitled “Avi Rothner: the right choice to buy Chautauqua County Home?”

“I’m not here to argue whether or not to sell the county home,” Cornell said. “The question before us that we can really hone in on is whether or not this is the appropriate buyer. If we are going to sell the home, is this the gentleman who we want to sell our County Home to?”

The floor opened to the public for questions and comments after each legislator had a chance to express their point of view regarding the sale. And, it became apparent that, like the legislators, those who attended the meeting were split on whether the home should be sold, and whether it should be sold to Rothner.

Some members of the public were of the opinion that the home is an urgent financial situation that needs to be dealt with and gotten rid of immediately. Others felt it was the obligation of the county to care for the people who could not afford care from privatized homes.

Although there were several members of the public who still had comments and questions, the meeting wrapped up after two hours of discussion. Bobbie Caswell, acting assistant director of the library, urged those in attendance to contact their legislator with further comments and concerns regarding the potential sale of the home.