Decision Day

There are two sides to every story – and, in the case of the Chautauqua County Home, there are legislators on both sides.

The County Home debate could come to an end tonight. Or, if legislation to sell to potential purchaser William (Avi) Rothner, of Altitude Health Services, does not pass with 17 votes, the debate could continue. 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.

Tonight, legislators will hear a resolution authorizing the sale of the County Home to Altitude Health Systems Inc. If that resolution does not pass, legislators will hear a resolution regarding intent to sell the County Home.

According to a memo to legislators from County Executive Greg Edwards, “If the first resolution were to pass the full Legislature, the second resolution would be ruled out of order. If the first resolution does not pass the full Legislature, the second resolution will be available for action.”

As for legislators, some Democrats are speaking out regarding their opposition to the sale of the County Home to Rothner.

According to the legislature’s minority leader Robert Whitney, D-Jamestown, news and government reports from around the country are concerning. Whitney cited a Chicago Tribune article from April 2012, which says police reports and state health department inspections allege a pattern of patient violence, including the rape of a female resident, at Rainbow Beach Care Center, where Rothner is a part-owner. Whitney also pointed to other articles, including a list that places Rothner as one of the “10 worst nursing home owners” in the state of Illinois.

“It occurred to me that I have spoken to numerous constituents that support the sale of the County Home, but who tell me they know very little about the bidder, Avi Rothner,” Whitney said. “And when I tell them about the Rothner family’s less-than-stellar record, they become very concerned. Chautauqua County residents deserve to know the facts about Rothner’s operations.”

Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown, supported Whitney, stating that Chautauqua County has a long history of caring for elderly residents and will not tolerate anything less.

“Whether one supports or opposes the sale of the County Home, I believe we can all be troubled by some of the questionable business practices and record of abuse and neglect of this out-of-town nursing home chain,” Cornell said. “We deserve, and certainly can, do better in Chautauqua County. I urge the county executive to do his homework and find us a reputable buyer that makes quality care and a commitment to our community a priority.”

On the other hand, there are legislators who are not only looking to sell the County Home, but who are pleased with Rothner’s records.

Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point, did his own research on homes owned solely by Rothner and concluded that Rothner would be a good choice for running the County Home.

“As legislators, we are elected to represent the people of our districts while keeping in mind the best interests of Chautauqua County,” Horrigan said in an editorial. “This requires that the whole story is understood with a fair analysis and with special interests set aside. As we review the Altitude Health Services sales contract, our goal should be to adopt the best possible contract for the County Home residents, employees and the citizens of Chautauqua County. Rejecting the sale of our Medicare-rated 1 star nursing home which costs the taxpayers of Chautauqua County over $3 million per year is not a good choice.”

Horrigan’s thoughts are backed by those of majority leader Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, who said he would like to save the County Home by not having it close when it runs out of money.

“Basically, Mrs. Cornell and Mr. Whitney are only hearing what they want to hear,” Barmore said. “My concern is that I want to save the County Home. The bottom line is, we are in a lot of budget trouble. We’ve kicked a major deficit down the road a lot of years, and it’s not going to be too many more years before it catches up with the legislature, whoever’s going to be here.”

Barmore continued to say that, if the home is not sold, eventually tough decisions will have to be made. He predicted that one of the cuts would be to the home’s Intergovernmental Transfer funds.

“Once that happens, the County Home won’t have enough money to operate, and it will be forced to close,” Barmore said. “When that happens, we will have no County Home and we’ll have no jobs. By selling it to Mr. Rothner, who I feel is a very reliable buyer, we’re saving the home and we’re saving those jobs. Mr. Rothner will put the home on solid financial ground.”

Barmore said Cornell and Whitney are “trying to play both sides of the fence” when it comes to selling the County Home, by focusing on the potential purchaser rather than the home losing money and needing to be supported. If the resolution to sell the home to Rothner does not pass tonight, he said the second resolution will be an opportunity to know exactly where each legislator stands on selling the home.

“I want to know from Mrs. Cornell and I want to know from Mr. Whitney, I want to know from Mr. Hoyer,” Barmore said. “Whatever your reasoning is for voting no for the resolution to sell the home, if we get to that point, take that reason away, would you then vote ‘yes,’ or is the home just plain old not for sale?”

The legislative meeting will take place tonight at 6:30 in the Legislative Chambers on the Gerace Office Building in Mayville. There will be a privilege of the floor held for anyone wishing to make one last plea to legislators on whether to sell the County Home before voting takes place.