‘Our No. 1 Option’

MAYVILLE – Several Chautauqua County Legislators would like to see the vote on the Chautauqua County Home moved to a date after the Nov. 5 election.

Four representatives of VestraCare, the latest organization to make an offer on the home, attended a question-and-answer work session with legislators Wednesday. Edward Farbenblum, owner, presented, along with Jaqueline Sylvia, administrator of Golden Hill Nursing Home; Hector Rodriguez, Golden Hill human relations; and Cookie Travis, Golden Hill administration director. Rodriguez is also a current Ulster County legislator, who was opposed to selling the Ulster County nursing home to Farbenblum.

According to legislative Chairman Jay Gould, a special meeting is set for Oct. 30 to vote on the sale of the County Home to VestraCare.

“It’s political either way,” Gould said. “If you push it back to after the election, that’s political, too. It’s political whether it’s before or after. It just depends on what politician you are.”

Legislators spent less than two hours questioning the quartet about the homes owned by Farbenblum.

“I thought the meeting went, generally, pretty good,” said Gould. “I thought we got quite a lot of information. I was glad that two legislators had gone down and looked at one of the nursing homes.”

The representatives from VestraCare said they would like to expand the services of the home, should they be approved as the purchaser. They said they could potentially add services such as a medical and social day care, home care services, outpatient therapy and disease management, as well as other specialized programs. Additionally, VestraCare said it would likely hire the majority of those who wish to continue their employment at the County Home, following an application, interview and screening process.

Sylvia also said VestraCare would potentially increase the levels of nursing at the County Home, as it currently is not staffed at the levels of other homes owned by the organization. Although the County Home would be supported by nursing staff from other homes owned by VestraCare, Sylvia said local residents would be hired for the long run.

“We are looking for local nurses, staff, CNAs, LPNs,” Sylvia said. “The county feeling is not going to change in the facility. That’s where our residents live. That’s not going to change.”

Legislator Bob Whitney, D-Jamestown, expressed concern at the timeframe the legislature was given to review the contract and make a decision. According to the agreement between VestraCare and Chautauqua County, if the Chautauqua County Legislature does not approve the sale by Oct. 31, VestraCare has the right to terminate the agreement. Bill Coughlin, D-Fredonia, also stated his biggest complaint was the timeframe which was given.

“Would 45 days have been too much?” Coughlin asked. “What’s going on here? Is this to force a vote on the County Home before the election for both legislature and county executive? That’s what I believe the 30 is for. I’m just trying to figure out who asked for the 30 days.”

“I can’t speak for anybody else’s motivation. I can speak to my own motivation. We’re going to buy a facility in New York in the next year,” Farbenblum responded. “Right now, our No. 1 option is your facility. If it’s not your facility, somebody else’s. We have to know that sooner rather than later.”

Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown, also expressed he felt the legislature would vote as it had in the past should a vote be called before the election. He said he also felt that should a vote take place following the election, the outcome could possibly be different.

“I was thrilled to hear finely stated from the legislature that this is all about politics,” said County Executive Greg Edwards. “That’s revolting. The most important decision legislators are going to make in their career, possibly, is all about politics. To have legislators admit, on the floor, that decisions would likely change after elections, so they were in essence defrauding the people they were seeking votes from, was one of the most egregious revelations that I’ve heard in eight years. It certainly helps me understand a lot about what’s happened in the last two years.”

Edwards said he was impressed with Rodriguez speaking as a legislator who had been through the process of selling a county-owned nursing facility.

Absent from the meeting were Tim Hoyer, D-Jamestown; Bob Duff, R-Sheridan; Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; and Robert Stewart, R-Ellington. Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, arrived late, and Tom DeJoe, D-Brocton, left early. Farbenblum said Cornell and Hoyer had sent their questions to him via email.

In order to sell the home, the supermajority of legislators must be in favor of the sale. The supermajority vote would require 17 legislators to vote in favor of selling. This stems from a local law dating back to 1975, which requires a two-thirds vote in order to sell real property owned by the county.

In January, when an offer from Altitude Health Services was on the table, only 16 legislators of the 25 were in favor of selling.

The 16 legislators who voted in favor of selling the home were: Barmore; George Borrello, R-Irving; Fred Croscut, R-Sherman; Paula DeJoy, D-Jamestown; Tom Erlandson, D-Frewsburg; John Hemmer, R-Westfield; David Himelein, R-Findley Lake; Vince Horrigan, R-Bemus Point; Victoria James, D-Jamestown; Nazzaro; Rod Rogers, G-Forestville; John Runkle, R-Stockton; Stewart; Mark Tarbrake, R-Ellicott; Paul Wendel, R-Lakewood; and Gould.

Voting to keep the home were: Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk; Cornell; Coughlin; DeJoe; Robert Duff, R-Sheridan; Heenan; Hoyer; Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; and Whitney.