County grills VestraCare

MAYVILLE – New county legislators had questions, and VestraCare had answers at an information session Wednesday night concerning the latest development on the potential privatization of the Chautauqua County Home.

VestraCare representatives Shannon Cayea-Delker, administrator, and Edward Farbenblum, executive vice president, visited Mayville to explain what will happen if the legislature votes to sell the County Home at a price of $16 million with a potential $1 million in upgrades to the facility.

This is the company’s second offer; the first in the amount of $16.5 million was voted down last October.

New legislators raised their hands most, including Fred Larson, D-Jamestown; Janet Keefe, D-Fredonia; and Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan.

Larson questioned how and why VestraCare could make a profit on the facility, while in the hands of the county, the nursing home couldn’t.

In terms of retirement funds, Farbenblum confirmed that VestraCare would most likely pay 3 or 4 percent of wages into a 401(k)-type retirement fund, while the county pays an estimated 18 percent of wages and salaries into the state retirement system.

“VestraCare would instantly save over $1 million a year just on retirement costs at the County Home,” Larson said. “The other thing is that the private owner confirmed their health insurance contribution as an employer is probably going to go down at least $500,000 from what the county pays. Those two items alone turn a $1.5 million loss for the county into a $1.5 million dollar gain for a private owner.”

Keefe cited the County Home’s original mission to provide care for those in need.

“What about those in the home the very population the county home was created for, the indigent population will they be evicted?” asked Keefe.

“In no way shape or form do we intend on evicting any resident,” Cayea-Delker said. “We will insist on finding a payer source.”

An example of a payer source is Medicaid, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of the County Home’s current residents.

Niebel and Farbenblum spoke over each other on the value of the County Home, and did not come to a conclusion on its assessment.

Furthermore, Niebel asked how much value a gas well on the property held.

“I’m completely unequipped to comment on the gas well,” Farbenblum responded, adding that VestraCare would further investigate its value if the County Home was purchased.

George Borrello, R-Irving, questioned Farbenblum about VestraCare’s plan to hire current County Home workers.

Borrello said he had spoken with many north county residents about what may happen in the event of the sale, and a rumor had circulated that Farbenblum had said he would never make the mistake again of retaining so many employees because of the legal obligation to moderate a union contract.

“This is your opportunity to set it straight,” Borrello said. “Did you, or did you not, say that you would never make the mistake again of retaining so many employees so that you could avoid a union contract?”

“I never said that,” Farbenblum responded, noting that VestraCare would communicate clearly with the CSEA union.

As for employing current County Home workers, Farbenblum and Cayea-Delker confirmed that employees who pass the screening process will have the opportunity to work for VestraCare.

“Our intention is to maintain absolutely almost every person in that building, as long as they can pass the background check,” Cayea-Delker said, further stating that she believes the County Home is currently understaffed. “We’d definitely have to add more nursing staff to that building.”

County Executive Vince Horrigan attended the meeting and said he was impressed with the presentation.

“We answered some questions on employment, staffing and services and you can see this is a comprehensive health care team,” Horrigan said. “I am very optimistic about the future. I think it’s the right decision and I realize it’s a difficult decision for some and some people are scared but I think these are the right operators for our facility.”

The next vote on the sale of the County Home will take place Feb. 26 at 6:30 in the legislative chambers of the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.

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