A ‘stand’ for County Home
By LORI CORNELL
The following was adapted from the speech I gave on the floor of the County Legislature last month. In light of the county executive’s attempt to again gain support for the sale of the County Home to Avi Rothner of Chicago, the argument bears repeating.
My grandmother was a small town Republican with head-strong determination. I think she took literally the old saying “work your fingers to the bone.” In addition to their digging and hauling business, my grandparents were never too proud for any job. When my mother was growing up, my grandma often worked three jobs at a time just to make ends meet. Even into her eighties, she kept going. Cooking, baking, cleaning, working, working, working. She was strong and full of life. Never quit.
A few years ago, my hard-working grandma became a private pay resident in the Chautauqua County Home. In September 2012, at the age of 93, she had her final of many strokes. Doctors said she had only a couple days, if not hours, to live. I took turns with my family sitting by her bedside. Day after day, she hung on. And by about the eighth day, it finally dawned on me: my grandmother couldn’t quit. Annabelle Kelley had never known what it was … to quit.
Yes, I have a personal connection to the County Home. And yes, I grew up in Dunkirk where I have childhood memories of attending Sunday Mass at the Home. And yes, I am eternally grateful to the extremely dedicated staff. And no, even if I wanted to take the politically easy way out and recuse myself from the vote, legislative rules rightly do not allow me to do so.
I fully realize that for many of my Jamestown constituents, the County Home may likely not hold personal memories as it does for me, but I also give my constituents the credit they deserve. As my colleague Timothy Hoyer said well, I know my constituents care about the well-being of others, regardless of where in the county they reside. I know my constituents care about the high quality of care upon which our community has long depended from strong and well-respected nursing homes like Lutheran and Heritage. And I know my constituents care about protecting those most vulnerable among us, regardless of whether they are a complete stranger in Dunkirk or friend down the street. I know and love Jamestown and I know Jamestown cares.
My constituents have entrusted me with not only the responsibility to protect their tax dollars, but to work together with my legislative colleagues to help provide for a strong and promising future for our entire community.
In best representing those interests, some of us believe we must sell the County Home in order to keep the county home. That in order to keep care available in the northern part of the county, we must turn the reins over to the private sector. That in order to protect taxpayers, we must un-shoulder the county home expense.
I will concede these well-intentioned motives. I share the concern of all county residents for our exorbitant property tax burden. And I have been among those fighting the hardest to provide quality services and at more efficient cost in local government.
I will not, however, concede to the current and only purchase-bidder, Avi Rothner. I will not turn a blind eye or just hope for the best with him, despite his family business’ reputation. I will not forget why I became involved in public service to begin with. I will not stop doing the job I was elected to do to research, deliberate and provide due diligence. Like my grandmother, I will not quit. I will not stop fighting for what’s right.
Avi Rothner is not the right choice.
Let’s consider the information that has been presented.
There are numerous instances that should give us pause. For example, a Rothner nursing home in Northlake, Ind., that the federal government labeled as “one of the worst nursing homes in the country” was ordered to be shut down in May of 2010. Or take another example, in which a 2012 Chicago Tribune article attributed patient violence to staff shortages at Rainbow Beach, another facility in which Mr. Rothner is a trust holder.
There are excessive fines assessed by the State of Illinois ranging from $10,000-$55,000 on 24 Rothner homes, three of which list Mr. Rothner as part-owner, and dozens of pages of violations recorded by Medicaid and Medicare inspectors from several nursing homes where he is part-owner.
Another example is the rape of a female patient at a Giannini and Barrish-owned home where Mr. Rothner is a part-owner. Incidentally, Giannini and Barrish pleaded guilty in federal court to felony money-laundering charges and paid a $2 million settlement.
Some say we shouldn’t worry about negligence issues while considering a sale of the County Home, because we can be well-assured the New York state Department of Health will cover our backs. Let’s not pass the buck. It’s our responsibility to make the right choice from the onset.
Others lament that “it’s too bad, Rothner is our only choice.” Just because Marcus and Millichap, the Chicago-based marketing firm hired by County Executive Greg Edwards, remarkably only came back with one bidder, does not mean we can’t do a better job ourselves and demand a better buyer. The County Executive needs to do his homework.
Others have suggested you can’t blame Avi Rothner for the homes owned by his father. Mr. Rothner himself proclaimed he goes to work every day with his father and, more importantly, receives compensation from his father’s businesses.
And still others take solace in our “rock solid contract” proposal with Avi Rothner that includes a large number of protective stipulations. Even with our talented county legal team, I would imagine it would be difficult and costly for us to go up against the Rothner operations with a litigious history.
Avi Rothner is not the right choice. Let’s pick a better buyer.
Let’s stand together. We are better than this. We are Chautauqua County where we’ve always cared for our frail and our elderly. Where we have shown them the respect and dignity they deserve. Where we have a proud tradition of excellence in both public and private nursing home care. Where we don’t sell on the cheap.
Let’s fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
Let’s be the voice for those who cannot speak.
Let’s stand for what’s right.
Lori Cornell is a county legislator from Jamestown.