The time has come for county legislators to once again make a decision about the future of the Chautauqua County Home, scheduled for Wednesday.
Certain legislators seem to still be undecided about the future of the Dunkirk facility and its impact on the county budget. The nursing home’s projected expenses are an estimated $20 million for 2014, compared with a projected revenue amount of $17.4 million.
The difference of $2.6 million breaks down to more than $7,000 in daily losses while potential purchaser VestraCare’s offer of $16 million plus potential upgrades breaks down to $74,000 for each of the nursing home’s 216 beds.
Additionally, $16 million is much higher, on average, for nursing home purchase offers statewide, according to a study published by the Center for Government Research in 2012.
VestraCare purchased county-owned nursing facility Golden Hill Healthcare in Ulster County last year for $11.3 million, or $40,179 per bed.
“It wasn’t a decision to keep it public or private,” said Ken Crannell, deputy county executive for Ulster County. “It was a decision to keep it open or closed.”
Crannell said he and Ulster County officials put together a plan to sell the facility, and researched potential purchasers, rather than putting out a request for proposals.
They received six offers, all of them above the minimum bid ranging from $10.5-$12.3 million.
“We didn’t go with the highest bidder. To us, creating a model that would sustain our nursing facility long into the future was more important than several hundreds of thousands of dollars of difference in a purchase price,” he said, adding that eight other counties have modeled their potential sales after Ulster County.
The sale was complete in June 2013, after spending 2012 researching appropriate buyers.
“(VestraCare) brought so much to the table that the Department of Health approved the transition in six months after the sale,” Crannell said, referring to a part of the transition process which requires DOH approval.
Main concerns prior to the sale were whether or not the county could sustain the facility with more than $8 million in yearly deficits, paying for unfunded state mandates and striving not to raise Ulster County taxes.
“We saw buyers that were not personally invested in their facilities and didn’t understand the needs of their residents,” Crannell said, “VestraCare brought the financial wherewithal to pull it off.”
After the sale, Crannell said VestraCare’s owners went out of their way to work with the CSEA Union, which Edward Farbenblum, vice president, said he would be willing to do for Chautauqua County employees at an informational session in Mayville on Feb. 5.
“They were able to negotiate similar wages for existing employees,” Crannell said. “Benefit packages are much different.”
At the same meeting Farbenblum attended, it was noted by Fred Larson, D-Jamestown, that would instantly save over $1 million per year on retirement costs, and $500,000 in health insurance contributions at the County Home.
“It’s very hard to run a nursing home 24-7, 365 days a year under the same county contract as a truck driver,” Crannell said. “It’s one of the reasons why we made a conscious decision to transfer ownership of the facility. We retained jobs in our community and access for all of our residents.”
According to the CGR report, if the County Home were sold and put on the tax roll, and the county was no longer responsible for any annual subsidy, the average homeowner would save more than $17 a year.
Estimates from the county Finance Department suggested that ownership by a for-profit entity could reduce the overall tax levy by about $361,000 per year, spread across town, school and county taxes and leaving less taxes for each homeowner to pay, according to the CGR study.
Farbenblum said the transition process after purchase was smooth in Ulster County.
“I know it’s a tough decision,” Crannell said. “The biggest opponents of our transaction, those who fought it tooth and nail, today recognize that the right decision was made, and they now credit it as a success and one they originally supported.”
As for the level of care provided by Golden Hill’s new owners, Crannell said new programs were brought to the facility, far exceeding anything the county was able to accomplish while owning the nursing home.
Programs included cardiac rehabilitation services, adult daycare, assisted living and in-home care, all of which Farbenblum and VestraCare administrator Shannon Cayea-Delker discussed bringing to Chautauqua County.
“By doing those programs you’re adding services and you’re adding staff,” Cayea-Delker said. “There would be an extension of staff.”
Other potential upgrades for the Dunkirk facility include a revamping and installation of electronic medical records, which are dated, Farbenblum said, and an update to interior furniture, which is in progress at Golden Hill as well.
Additionally, 30 acres of land accompanying the facility would be ideal for expansion.
“They really took Golden Hill to a new level,” Crannell said. “We have an excellent nursing home, one that has been really a jewel of our community.”
Prior to his position in Ulster County, Crannell was deputy county executive for administration at Suffolk County, which closed its county-owned nursing home in June 2013.
Suffolk County received offers of $23 million and $36 million for the 264-bed facility, but failed to negotiate a sale.
“The legislature strung it out for a very long time, and the purchase price that was originally offered wasn’t sustainable and the buyers terminated the sale,” Crannell said, adding that 240 residents were discharged from the facility, and all employment was terminated. “They locked the front door and people were spread all over New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.”
The fate of Suffolk County’s facility recently underwent a study to be used as potential jail space. The five-story structure has seen offers, and the county’s 2014 budget included a potential $17.1 million from its sale. However, legislators concluded a more realistic amount would be $11 million.
The Chautauqua County Home vote will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the legislative chambers of the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.