Whitney Defends County Home Vote

I read with interest your editorial entitled “Residents Forgotten in County Home Vote.” Although I am new to Chautauqua County politics, I have been extremely involved as a leader in other facets in our community for many years. It has been my experience that our Chautauqua County lawmakers, regardless of political party, make decisions that they believe are not only in the best interest of their constituents, but also the county as a whole. While individual legislators may not agree on the best course of action, their decisions are always made on that premise. The sale of the Chautauqua County Home to William Avi Rothner falls under the category of one of those decisions that, while we may not agree on the best course, ultimately, all of us, Republicans and Democrats, are voting for what we believe to be the best interest for the residents of our county.

I voted no on the sale in question because I believe it was a bad deal for the people in my district and all of Chautauqua County. Based on the evidence detailing the Rothner family’s nursing home business, I was not satisfied that the residents in our Chautauqua County Home would receive the same level and quality of care that they currently receive. Nothing written into a contract can protect nursing home residents from a bad operator, and I will not act irresponsibly and depend on the state to clean up our county’s mess. Some say this is not a concern, or question the evidence, referring to the Chicago Tribune as a “blog,” for example, or using anecdotal evidence to counter the investigative data, or claim that the presentation of the evidence represents a “smear campaign.”

When I spoke with my constituents, I can tell you that quality is a concern. I do consider the level and quality of care provided to our seniors at this facility to be critically important and part of my bottom line in decision making. With a clear mind and by listening to the concerns of my constituents, quality of care is as much, if not more, of a concern along with the financial well-being of the Home.

We also know that the proposed sale price for this asset owned by the people of Chautauqua County was far below the recommendations that were presented to us. Rothner was getting it on the cheap from the taxpayers of Chautauqua County – a “slap in the face” to the taxpayers of Chautauqua County so to speak. To me, the price matters. It matters to me if we are taken by a Chicago-based nursing home conglomerate just so we can move on, gamble with the care our seniors receive, and sell on the cheap. I, for one, don’t think we should sell ourselves short. For the record, I voted in favor of selling the home should we find a responsible buyer who is willing to pay a reasonable price for it.

Legislator and local attorney Billy Coughlin really hit the nail on the head when he said “something about this deal stinks.” As he stated in the Legislature, the marketing consultant, Marcus and Millichap, at no expense (apparently just good will) agreed to find us a buyer, and lo and behold they could only find just one, with a price well below value. This “one-bidder/lower-than-asking price” mode of operation seems consistent with their increasing number of other NYS county dealings. Only the County Executive can shed light on this process as the Legislature was not part of the negotiations.

After the County Legislature meeting last week, County Executive Edwards described the poor financial condition of the County home, almost celebrating the fact that it was continuing to lose money on his watch. It was as this editorial page described “bleeding money.” Historically the County Home has been a self-financed”enterprise account” of county government – many years the Home made money. Mr. Edwards has been the CEO of the Home for the last seven years. Under his stewardship alone, the County Home continues to deteriorate financially. And he continues to resist any recommendations to make the county home more financially viable -both from legislative committees and outside experts. Running a county entity financially into the ground should certainly not be a source of pride.

Nor is the fact that the County Executive endorsed the county’s recent expenditure of $80,000 for a Center for Governmental Research (CGR) study that recommended numerous revenue-producing and cost-savings measures to keep the County Home from costing taxpayers, but to date, the County Executive has refused to make a concerted effort toward implementing the suggestions!

But perhaps the most telling is the fact that just days before his reelection in 2008, County Executive Edwards took out a full page advertisement in the Observer newspaper in Dunkirk promising that the County Home was “Not for Sale”.

So, WHO is it that “decided the people who put them into office didn’t matter”?