Legislators respond to County Home vote

Following Wednesday night’s sale of the Chautauqua County Home, county legislators and County Executive Vince Horrigan are ready to move forward.

After three votes in 2013 failed to see the nursing home removed from county ownership, legislators defended their decisions to solidify the sale to VestraCare at a cost of $16 million.

“It’s been a long process but we’ve finally come through,” Horrigan said. “It is imperative that we continue to support the administration and staff of the County Home during this time of transition.”

Horrigan recently appointed three interim management employees to lead the nursing facility after administrator Tim Hellwig announced his resignation in late January.

“The current contract is for 60 days,” Horrigan said of the acting administrators. “During the transition process, we will have discussions with the new owners.”

The actual privatization of the nursing home will take place over 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.

Horrigan said he will be a constant presence to lead and support workers and residents, and the nursing home’s new owners will visit the facility to meet with staff in the next few weeks.

REACTIONS

“My overriding reaction is relief that this is finally behind us,” said Pierre Chagnon, R-Bemus Point. “It’s good to have it behind us, and now we can move forward.”

Other legislators disagreed with the outcome of the vote, such as Terry Niebel, R-Sheridan.

“I thought it was a sad day for the legislature, and a sad day for the elderly of Chautauqua County,” he said. “The workers there were willing to make concessions and help make the County Home more cost effective and they were never given the opportunity to do so.”

Furthermore, Niebel said other areas of county government, especially the Welfare to Work program, need to be analyzed for cost savings.

“People who have lived here, worked here and raised their families here those are the people we ought to be taking care of,” he said. “We need to put restrictions on able bodied people that come here from out of state to take advantage of our generous public assistance benefits. We could have funded the County Home, but nobody wanted to spend the time to work on improving the situation there.”

Chuck Nazzaro, D-Jamestown said the outcome of the vote was what he expected.

“I know it’s very emotional and for some, disappointing,” he said. “Everyone’s got to be positive to make this work, and I think VestraCare is very sincere.”

Nazzaro and other legislators such as George Borrello, R-Irving, said they felt confident in their decisions to vote in favor of the sale, and that they thought after thorough research and review that it was the best option for the County Home’s future.

“No one can say we rushed the vote,” Nazzaro said. “I feel definitely that the County Legislature did its due diligence, and made an educated decision.”

FUNDING

Nazzaro said the next topic involving the County Home could involve Intergovernmental Transfer funding, also known as IGT funding.

Almost 80 percent of resident stays at the County Home are paid for by Medicaid, whose rates historically fall short of covering the increasing costs of public nursing homes, according to a study performed by the Center for Government Research.

IGT funding helps offset losses in public nursing homes, and to access the payments, the county would provide a 50 percent match from the county’s general fund, which it did prior to 2013.

Now, with the County Home still under county ownership for the next several months, IGT funding would help keep it operating, although it was not included in this year’s budget and was cited as a drain on taxpayers.

“We lose every year on the County Home and we have to provide funds to keep it going,” Horrigan said. “You could make a case that if we fund the IGT and put it into the home, then when the home finally settles and closes, we will get the amount of dollars left over.”

However, Horrigan said more information needs to be provided about the federal window of time to apply.

“It’s premature, and we need that information before anything is presented to the legislature,” he added. “When we get that information, we’ll know what’s available and have all the details to make an educated decision.”

Nazzaro said he would support funding the IGT.

“We did not want the IGT funding to be reflected as part of the budget process, or else the tax rate would have gone up,” Nazzaro said. “We were very transparent in saying that if the sale went through, we would fund the IGT and that money would return back to the county.”

PROCEEDS

Money returned over the course of the county’s remaining ownership of the nursing facility must be put into a capital account.

“As a legislature, we have to look carefully at how we’ll spend the net proceeds of the home,” Nazzaro said. “We need to build up our fund balance to increase our bond rating and use that money for something that will have a positive economic impact on the entire county.”

Niebel said he believes it will be a tough year financially for the county.

“I think we need to take a look at a number of county operations and see if there can’t be improvements made as far as efficiency,” he said. “We’re not going to realize anywhere near the proceeds from the sale of the County Home that people think we are. Out of the $16 million, we’ll be lucky if we get $1.3 million.”