$16 million deal

MAYVILLE – The potential privatization of the Chautauqua County Home is no longer potential – it’s reality.

After three failed votes and months of debate, the fourth vote on the sale of the nursing home to VestraCare at a price of $16 million was approved Wednesday in Mayville.

Emotions ran high as representatives of the nursing home, the CSEA union and Todd Tranum, president of the county Chamber of Commerce, spoke out about what legislators should and shouldn’t do.

The question on many minds was how Fred Larson, D-Jamestown, would vote. Shortly before the roll was called, Larson explained that he would vote to sell the home, stating that it was the wish of many Chautauqua County voters.

“There is simply no point to dragging this agony out and costing the taxpayers another half-million dollars by waiting until next month, or April, to sell,” he said. “It is no longer essential for the county to be in the nursing home business.”

George Borrello, R-Irving, was singled out by County Home workers who gathered before the vote and spoke during privilege of the floor, saying they were disappointed in his decision.

“Anyone that would suggest that I didn’t take my time to make the decision is sadly mistaken,” Borrello said. “I don’t want to see us close our eyes and bury our heads in the sand like some other counties have. I will stand, and I will vote tonight to sell because it’s the right thing to do for the long-term survival of that home and its residents.”

The vote passed by 13-5 in favor of selling.

County Executive Vince Horrigan spoke after the vote and said he had made a phone call to the County Home on Wednesday to check in on the morale of residents and employees.

“What I want to focus on are the people,” he said. “I’m glad that the decision has been made, but at the same time I want everyone to know I’ve just begun my work for the residents and the new owners and employees to make sure we follow through on what the decision is.”

Horrigan also said he would make sure VestraCare lives up to its commitment and reputation.

“I would hope that we band together for the employees and residents, no matter how you voted,” he said to the legislators. “This has been a difficult time for this county. I just would like to see us all band together and work to move forward in a cooperative way.”

Horrigan also noted a lengthy Certificate of Need process, which is a state Department of Health procedure verifying VestraCare can properly take ownership, will take place in the months to follow.

County Home employee Bonnie Peters spoke before and after the vote, tearfully, once the decision was made.

“I want you to know how incredibly disappointed I am in what you have done to Chautauqua County and our whole community,” she said. “Our county home is now a part of big business. It is no longer there for our citizens. I hope that in two years, 10 years, that you guys will still be happy with the choice you made today.”

In 2011, Greg Edwards, former county executive, sought the help of Chicago-based firm Marcus & Millichap to aid in marketing the Dunkirk facility.

The brokers found two qualified purchasers, VestraCare and Altitude Health, and one which offered a lease agreement with the possibility of a sale, Absolut Care.

All three purchase offers, two by Altitude and the other by Vestracare, were voted down by the County Legislature over the course of 2013. However, VestraCare made a second purchase offer on the nursing home in January in the amount of $16 million plus a potential $1 million in upgrades to the facility.

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.

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.

Jay Gould, R-Ashville, was absent from the meeting.

Borrello said after the meeting that it was a difficult decision to make.

“Despite what some people might think, nobody is popping champagne corks over this tonight,” he said.