The County Home

Until the advent of Medicaid in the 1960s, counties in New York were required to have a “county home.” My parents’ generation referred to it as the “poorhouse” and some called it the “county farm.” It was the local safety net for the destitute, for those who could not provide for their own support. Until 1959, it was located on a farm run by the county in Dewittville. In 1959, under a new governor (Nelson Rockefeller), New York State established regulations requiring a higher quality of care among nursing homes. Those regulations also applied to the County Home. In order to comply, Chautauqua County was required to build a new facility. A new County Home was built and for the past 55 years has been located in the Town of Dunkirk.

In those days (similar to today), there was local opposition to “unfunded state mandates.”At the April 1959, Board of Supervisors meeting in Mayville, then Supervisor Joseph Gerace introduced a resolution advocating that the state legislature “enact legislation curbing costly, unnecessary, unrealistic and impractical requirements.” His subsequent resolution, as a cost-savings alternative, to convert the County T.B. Hospital in Cassadaga into the County Home, was defeated. The supervisors from northern Chautauqua County had rounded up the necessary support, and the County Home and Infirmary was moved to Dunkirk where it still operates to this day. The same Board of Supervisors, on October 2, 1959, passed a resolution thanking the Dunkirk Chamber of Commerce for the $5,000 it had contributed toward obtaining the site where the facility was built. There had been widespread support in the north county for the move.

For many years, the state and federal Medicaid system provided the primary funding needed to operate the County Home, but in recent years the cost of the facility has fallen more and more upon the shoulders of county taxpayers. This year, the election focused on this issue and those in support of selling the County Home clearly prevailed in the election.

It will be interesting now to see if the Chautauqua County Legislature can muster the necessary votes to sell the Home. For the past 55 years, county ownership of the Home has been a north county/south county issue. If you were a Republican or Democrat from the north county, you were expected to support county ownership of the Home. Now that Republicans hold a convincing majority in the County Legislature, it will be interesting to see if they will be able to convince their north county colleagues to join them in selling the facility.

It takes a long time to change things in politics. Could 2014 be the year that Chautauqua County gets out of the nursing home business? Time will tell. Stay tuned.

A Chautauqua County resident interested in analyzing public policy from a long-term perspective writes these views under the name Hall Elliot.