Fulton County nursing porposal draws criticism

Several employees of the Fulton County Residential Health Care Facility spoke out against the possib

Several employees of the Fulton County Residential Health Care Facility spoke out against the possible sale or privatization of the facility Thursday at the Fulton County Board of Supervisors meeting.

CSEA Local 818 President Ron Briggs said Thursday’s meeting was the last opportunity the employees would have to voice concerns before a March 3 deadline for proposals from entities interested in taking over the facility.

In August, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors hired a consulting firm called the Center for Governmental Research to help them explore whether to privatize the county’s nursing home and Certified Home Health Agency.

Briggs provided the board with 338 letters from people opposing the privatization of either entity.

“I have a better solution. Keep both the residential health care facility and nursing service public and we will continue to provide the quality of care we have always given,” Briggs said.

If the county privatized the two services, about 200 of the 486 members in Briggs’ union would lose their legal protections as public employee union members. It is unknown how many of them would be rehired by a private entity or at what salaries and benefits.

Gloversville resident Patricia Wells would be one of them. She said she works at the nursing home and part of her job is caring for the elderly who’ve lost control of their bowels. She told the Board of Supervisors that sometimes when she’s cleaning a resident’s feces or urine, she notices that some of it has splashed onto the resident’s bedsheets. She said she and the other county employees make sure those sheets are cleaned and questioned whether a private entity would do the same.

“I don’t think anybody there planned to end their life there. Some of them did all of the right things on their financial planning and did not expect to be there. Some have been swindled or schemed out of money they had set aside,” she said. “What I have learned is it could happen to any of us. It could happen to you and I could be the face that comes in at 2 a.m. in the morning to make sure your bottom is clean.”

Barbara Handy, another county employee, asked the board why Fulton County can’t find a way for its nursing home to be profitable if for-profit private companies think they can do it. She said she doubts the county will save money privatizing the nursing home.

Bleecker Supervisor David Howard, chairman of the county’s health services committee, said some private entities may be able to provide better services at the nursing home at lower cost because they won’t be burdened by public employee union contracts, state pension contributions and civil service restrictions that generally make public sector services more expensive. He said the county has been able to operate the nursing home without providing it a subsidy for the past several years because of an influx of federal money, which he expects will soon run out.

Howard said he and the Board of Supervisors care about the union employees’ desire to remain employed by the public but said the board has to balance those concerns against the future liability to taxpayers for operating the services. He said he expects the county will be forced to resume subsidizing the nursing home in 2011 and he can’t predict how expensive the service will become.

“We’re looking at state funding and federal funding, which could be in flux. We were just in Albany, and the picture is bleak,” he said. “We value every employee that we have, but we can’t put our heads in the sand and say everything is going to be exactly the same as it always has because the state is in such financial trouble and the federal government is in such financial trouble.”

Howard said it’s wrong for people to assume that the board has decided to sell the facility and privatize the nursing service.

“We’re trying to do our due diligence and look at all the options,” he said. “We haven’t done the financials side by side yet. We need to look at what a privately run entity would look like and what the cost savings would be. There might not be any, but we don’t have the expertise in-house to determine that. To make a decision without looking at all the options would be irresponsible.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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