Is sale responsible?

It would appear that within the next few weeks a new proposal will be submitted for the purchase of the Chautauqua County Home and a fourth vote will be taken by the County Legislature to sell the home.

From all indications “the votes are there” and we will finally be rid of a facility that loses thousands of dollars a day and has been a burden to the taxpayers! Wow Good Riddance! The unconfirmed amount of $16 million will purchase a property which has been maintained and supported by the taxpayers for over 50 years. The County Home totally renovated within the past 10 years, with a gas well just waiting to be activated, 30 acres of land and 216 certified beds will belong to the private sector and they will run it more efficiently and make a profit! We in the county should breathe a sigh of relief because we all know how well the “private not for profits” manages its assets just look at Lake Shore Hospital.

With all the press and the hype to sell the Home, about all the money we are losing and what a burden the Home is to the taxpayers, I believe a larger problem exists. As a social worker I am very concerned about the lack of respect shown to the residents of the home and also to the staff. First of all, the group rarely mentioned is the residents themselves and their families. Referred to as “certified beds” in most articles, the fact is that this is actually “home” to the residents.

It is easy to forget that people reside in the home for many years; it is not just a place to go to die. Yes, most, but not all, are elderly and have difficulties, and they are there because of their need for care.

Make no mistake however, these people take pride in their home, they personalize their rooms, socialize with each other, have a community of their own and are very aware of the effort underway to sell the home. Many, as a part of the larger community, were active and leaders who were well respected.

There are also 32 veterans who are residents. From the articles in the paper, comments made by administration and legislators, many residents believe that they are a burden and are costing the taxpayers “thousands of dollars a day.” It causes them to be anxious and some to feel shame what an affront to their dignity.

Imagine the emotional ups and downs of this group who are not really sure of the future. The staff that are familiar may be gone, the services they receive and the security they feel are all compromised by the uncertainty of the Home’s future. The efforts that have been made to reach out to them and their families have been minimal. This vulnerable population, which has earned the right to respect and dignity, has been ignored. I believe this to be irresponsible and shameful.

Secondly, there are the employees of the Home. For the last 18 months they have been on a roller-coaster ride regarding their future. Again with total lack of respect for the employees, their dedication, hard work and longevity, they are characterized as a burden.

By privatizing the Home we will shed the county of 280 employees and their benefits! You read how much the county will save when they “eliminate” your job. A recent visit from the county executive leaves most apprehensive about their future. They have no real idea what will happen to them if the Home is sold but imagine being a committed worker who has dedicated yourself to your job, has longevity in your position, and are told that you may or may not be kept on by the new owners but all will have the opportunity to “apply for new positions.” There will definitely be a loss of benefits, probably lower wages if hired and little job security. You would think that this distraction would create a hostile work environment – but this is not the case. The staff has continued to provide services in a professional manner.

There is a public attitude however, that is troublesome. Employees are almost demonized because they work for the county and are given benefits that the “taxpayer” must support and because they are “union” employees and are compensated better than those in private sector homes.

This is unfortunate because the jobs were created by the county, the benefit packages were negotiated with the unions by administrators and legislators anxious for union support and endorsements. There is no argument that there are better benefits than many private facilities, but because of that employee turnover at the County Home is low and people make a commitment to a career.

This is not the case in many other facilities. Of course the other point that is often neglected is that the 280 employees live here, raise their children here, shop, volunteer, and participate in the community as a whole. Oh, and by the way, THEY ARE TAXPAYERS too! If there are reduced wages, loss of benefits and a reduction in the workforce when the home is purchased this will reflect on their families and on the community as a whole. This will be another hit to the local economy . but I guarantee the new owners will make a profit and probably with some sweet deal from Mayville – they won’t pay taxes for years.

Whether to sell the Home or not evokes strong reactions. It is probably futile to believe that any minds will be changed when the actual vote is tallied because opinions run very strong on the issue. In some respects it is yet another North-South county issue with one south county legislator making the comment that they checked the residents of the Home and none is from his district so he was going to vote to sell. An interesting observation but then as a taxpayer from the North County I tend to resent funding weed removal from Chautauqua Lake because I don’t have a boat docked there .. oh but I digress.

Reading the articles about selling the Home from the previous administration, the Chamber of Commerce and county officials have shown little regard for the history of the Home and attempts or suggestions to help correct the deficits have been met with total lack of interest by the Administration. It will be interesting to see if this same attitude applies to other parts of county government that also could be easily “privatized.”

Finally, on a brighter note, when the County Home is sold and we are not bleeding thousands of dollars a day, and we rid ourselves of the 280 County Home staff, which if you did not realize is 20 percent of the county workforce, and their benefit packages we should be able to expect a sizable reduction in our county tax bill. Wow I can hardly wait!

JoAnn Niebel is a Sheridan resident.