The county’s Public Health Committee on Wednesday took a major step toward selling the money-losing county-owned Maplewood Manor nursing home to a private operator.
The committee voted 4-2 at a meeting in Ballston Spa to recommend the county create a new local development corporation that would take ownership of the nursing home and manage a sale process that would probably last through the end of 2014.
Committee members, meeting in front of a roomful of upset employees, said the county has no other choice but to sell, given the huge losses the county is incurring in running the 277-bed nursing home.
“The state is forcing our hand. We’re losing $10 million a year,” said committee Chairman Arthur “Mo” Wright, R-Hadley. “We’d have to raise taxes 20 percent, or lay off 110 of you people.”
He reiterated what supervisors have been saying for years — that the losses are due to Medicaid reimbursement rates that cover barely half the cost of patient care.
“Contact Albany and Washington, they are the ones with the ability to address this,” said committee member Jean Raymond, R-Edinburg, as infirmary workers shouted from the audience.
In moving toward selling, Saratoga County is joining a long list of New York counties that are looking to sell or have already sold publicly owned nursing homes they say they can no longer afford to support.
The Civil Service Employees Association, which represents more than 300 nurses, aides and others who work at Maplewood Manor, accused the supervisors of rushing into a process they oppose.
“We have huge concerns. Here in Saratoga County, it appears the Board of Supervisors is trying to fast-track the sale of the nursing home,” said CSEA Regional President Kathy Garrison.
“What we see in other counties that have privatized is they dramatically reduced the workforce,” she said.
About 75 employees or their family members attended the meeting, waving signs with slogans and shouting criticisms.
The county’s outside consultant, the Harris Beach law firm, recommended forming a local development corporation as a way to facilitate the sale. The LDC could also borrow money over the next two years to cover the county’s losses until the infirmary can be sold.
Harris Beach was hired in March to do a $50,000 study and in August issued a report that said the current Maplewood Manor financing model isn’t sustainable, but the nursing home beds are needed in the county.
“Closing Maplewood Manor is not an option at this point,” Harris Beach partner Justin Miller told the committee Wednesday, but selling it to a private operator is.
Miller said forming an LDC “can enhance the county’s ability to select a preferred operator.”
The corporation could pick a broker to help manage the sale, solicit proposals and negotiate for conditions such as allowing all current residents to remain and all current staff be given consideration for retention, he said.
The plan is to include supervisors on the LDC board, so it would be subject to the state Open Meetings Law and would meet in public, Miller said.
He laid out a timeline in which proposals would be received next spring and negotiations for a final deal would be done by September. The required state Department of Health certificate of need review would take roughly 16 more months, delaying completion of the deal until late 2014.
The committee majority included Wright, Raymond, Alan Grattidge, R-Charlton, and Ed Kinowski, R-Stillwater. Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs, couldn’t attend but sent a statement supporting an LDC.
Voting against the plan were Joanne Yepsen, D-Saratoga Springs, and Patti Southworth, I-Ballston.
“From the governor on down, there’s a lot of concerns about LDCs,” Yepsen said. “What is boils down to is a much less transparent, less accountable process.”
“I believe we are giving the best care under the management system we have now,” said Southworth.
But backers of the measure said the county can’t afford to continue losing $10 million a year subsidizing the infirmary, while cutting back in other areas like road paving and imposing a hiring freeze.
“We’re in a dilemma, and we have to look at the best way out of it,” Kinowski said.
“We’ve worked hard, and we’ve looked at every option,” Wright said. “We can’t fiscally responsibly keep this facility.”
The committee recommendation will go to the county board’s Law and Finance Committee on Nov. 14, but no final decision can be made until after a public hearing, probably in December.
At a union rally before the meeting, 30-year nurse’s aide Laura Feulner termed the work at the infirmary physically and emotionally challenging but said employees are trying not to let the elderly and infirm residents know their worries about the future.
“It’s like coming home to family, coming to work each day,” she said.
“The solution is to correct Medicaid, so there are proper reimbursements,” said Madelyn Thorne, an employee of Schenectady County’s Glendale Home nursing facility who attended the rally and is the Democratic challenger to state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna.