By TODD TRANUM
The long-term fate of the County Home is in the hands of the legislature. There is much to lose if the legislature does not proceed with the sale. The research shows that the County Home as currently structured and operated cannot stand alone without taxpayer subsidy.
We should all be concerned about the long-term viability of the facility because the services provided are very important to our elderly population and the jobs of the care givers at the home must be preserved.
Chautauqua County legislators will meet on the County Home on Thursday.
A very balanced third party study was performed by the Center for Governmental Research. The study projects that in the next three years the County Home without Inter Governmental Transfer payments - federal subsidies - is expected to yield significant annual deficits (averaging as much as $3.5 million per year).
The CGR study states that under the assumption that the county remains in the business of operating the County Home and Inter Government Transfer (IGT) payments continue at current levels, the direct costs to taxpayers to continue allocating dollars to match and draw down the IGT funds would be about $1.25 million. In five to 10 years it is conceivable that the financial situation at the facility could become so tenuous that there may be no alternative but for the legislature to vote to close the facility. That would create a dire situation for the residents of the facility and the people who work there.
County government would be in a position of weakness to try to sell the Home as they will have a depreciated asset and if someone emerged interested in the property at that point there would likely be no guarantee on how it would be used. Our legislators can move the process forward now, by selling the Home.
We should give credit to the county executive, the legislature and the County Home ad hoc committee for working through a process that has included a great deal of input from community stakeholders and significant amounts of due diligence. The county has had independent audits performed on the County Home.
An independent audit performed by BWB in August 2012 concluded that the County Home lost $1.8 million in 2010 and over $3 million in 2011. The county executive coordinated a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. This RFP included a list of criteria that had to be met by a purchaser. Two important criteria included the continuation of skilled nursing care and that current union employees will be guaranteed offers of employment provided they file an application and pass a background check.
Through the RFP process two offers were received including one for $16.5 million in cash. Simultaneously the CGR study was performed which shed more light on the economic challenges and the options available pertaining to the Home.
It is important that this discussion move away from general statements about public versus private to a focus on the actual data pertaining to the County Home and those companies that responded to the RFP. Absolut Care is a known entity in our region and like the County Home, they do an excellent job providing care. There is a great deal of information available regarding the quality of their care on the New York State Department of Health website.
Our findings are that the quality of care provided in Absolut Care facilities of similar size is consistent to that provided by the County Home (source: New York State Department of Health). Altitude Health Services has operations in Lincoln, Neb., as well as Tucson, Ariz. The Lincoln, Neb., operation was a situation where Altitude purchased a county-run facility which had, prior to the purchase, experienced operating losses and was placed on probation by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (source: www.journalstar.com). Altitude purchased the facility and today the facility has experienced a major turnaround both financially and in terms of quality of care.
The facility has also seen investments to upgrade and enhance the living environment of the residents. Based on data from the official U.S. government site for Medicare, medicare.gov, the Lancaster Manor facility has a three out of five start overall ranking and the Chautauqua County Home as an overall ranking of one out of five stars based on health inspections, staffing and quality ratings.
We all recognize the important and caring services provided by the employees at the Chautauqua County Home. Our ultimate goal should be to make sure the services provided at that facility remain in place and that the excellent care givers at the facility have continued job opportunities.
The County Legislature now has to make some important decisions that will preserve these important services, continue care, and reduce costs burdened on the Chautauqua County taxpayer. Based on these facts we urge county leaders to continue to move forward in pursuing the sale of the County Home.
Todd Tranum is the chief executive officer of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier.