Preconceived notions about new ownership of the Chautauqua County Home are starting to dissipate, according to County Executive Vince Horrigan.
Horrigan has been meeting regularly with County Home residents, family members and representatives of VestraCare, which purchased the property in February for $16 million.
"Fears are starting to subside. What I'm seeing is that the residents, family members and employees are understanding that the County Home, as it transitions from a government-run facility to a privately operated facility, will actually increase services and become a stronger skilled nursing and assisted living facility," Horrigan said after a visit Thursday. "I had people come up to me and say their past concerns have been eliminated and they are excited about the future."
The actual privatization of the nursing home will take place over the next six to 12 months in conjunction with the state Department of Health, which must verify VestraCare has the proper means and licensure to take ownership.
"We are on track, meeting our timetable with the goal to transfer ownership of the County Home by the end of this calendar year," Horrigan said. "It's early in the process, but we feel like we are accomplishing our milestones along the way."
He added that his biggest concern is making sure questions from the staff, families and residents are properly answered.
As for the process of VestraCare interviewing and hiring employees, Horrigan said the process has not yet begun.
"I would expect that interviews will not take place until later in the year," he said.
The focus at the moment is on possible improvements to the facility, including an update to electronic medical records.
"Everything is business as usual in the County Home," he said. "The County Home is fully under the control of Chautauqua County until the sale closes, when all the state licensure requirements have been met."
Upgrades to the County Home may include cardiac rehabilitation services, adult daycare, assisted living and in-home care. Other potential upgrades for the Dunkirk facility include a revamping and installation of electronic medical records and an update to interior furniture. Additionally, 30 acres of land accompanying the facility would be ideal for expansion. As for employing current County Home workers, employees who pass the screening process will have the opportunity to work for VestraCare.
"We are fully engaged to minimize disruption in the transfer process, and continue to provide quality senior health services," Horrigan said.
Fear over privatization of the nursing facility was cause for debate for many months prior to the sale, while three votes by the County Legislature in 2013 failed to see the nursing home removed from government ownership.
In the 2014 county budget, the nursing home's projected expenses were an estimated $20 million, compared with the projected revenue amount of $17.4 million. The difference of $2.6 million broke down to more than $7,000 in daily losses, meaning the County Home would have to draw from its fund balance in order to pay for operating expenses.
A study performed by the Center for Governmental Research in 2012 presented county legislators with potential operational changes to reduce costs and increase revenue under county ownership.
According to the study, almost 80 percent of resident stays are paid for by Medicaid. These rates fall short of covering the increasing costs of public nursing homes costs affected by high benefit rates, such as the rising costs of health insurance and mandated retirement pension costs.
Furthermore, from 2013-15, significant annual deficits were expected to average as much as $3.5 million per year unless significant changes were made to reduce costs and increase revenues.
Horrigan said some of the suggested cost-saving initiatives had been implemented since 2012, but failed to yield significant results.
On Feb. 26, the vote passed by 13-5 in favor of selling.
Legislators who voted against the sale included Keith Ahlstrom, D-Dunkirk; Shaun Heenan, D-Dunkirk; Bob Scudder, R-Fredonia; Janet Keefe, D-Fredonia; and Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan.
Those who voted in favor of selling the facility included George Borrello, R-Irving; John Runkle, R-Stockton; Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point; Chuck Nazzaro, R-Jamestown; PJ Wendel, R-Lakewood; Dave Wilfong, R-Jamestown; Fred Larson, D-Jamestown; Paula DeJoy, D-Jamestown; Mark Tarbrake, R-Jamestown; Lisa Vanstrom, R-West Ellicott; Ron Lemon, R-Frewsburg; Dave Himelein, R-Findley Lake; and John Hemmer, R-Westfield.