Saratoga County’s plans to sell its Maplewood Manor nursing home were denounced by all who spoke at a public hearing Wednesday in Ballston Spa.
Some urged the county Board of Supervisors to consider raising taxes to support the nursing home’s losses, while others urged that a public referendum be held. Several said the county owes care to its infirm elderly, despite the infirmary’s losses.
“We have an obligation to the most vulnerable in our society, and if we don’t do that, it undermines the democratic foundation of society,” said Sam Brewer of Saratoga Springs.
In all, there were 14 speakers at the hearing in the county boardroom, including Maplewood Manor employees, family members of residents and concerned citizens. There were about 60 people in the audience — there were fewer speakers, and a smaller crowd, than when a similar hearing was held in November.
The hearing was on a proposal to transfer the 277-bed facility from county ownership to a new local development corporation, as a first step toward its sale. Supervisors will vote at their monthly board meeting Tuesday.
The local development corporation, which is controlled by members of the county board, will solicit proposals from private buyers. The plan is to have a purchaser selected by late this year, with the hope a private sale can be finalized by late 2014.
Those who spoke believe privatization would be a mistake, citing what has happened in other counties that have done it in recent years. Typically, they said patient care staffs are cut, and salaries also reduced.
“I have not been able to find one example of a nursing home successfully privatized in New York state,” said Dorothy Tyler, of Citizens Advocate for a Sustainable Maplewood Manor, whose mother is a Maplewood Manor resident.
Supervisors, however, say they don’t have a choice, given the $8 million to $10 million operating loss Maplewood Manor sustains each year — losses the county blames on low Medicaid reimbursement rates. A study by the Harris Beach law firm completed last summer recommended the sale, saying the current situation is “unsustainable.”
“We’re sensitive to the workers and what they are saying to us, but the reality is that the financial situation at Maplewood Manor will continue to deteriorate,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan R. Grattidge, R-Charlton. “Privatizing is the best way to ensure residents continue to receive quality care.”
Before the hearing, about 20 members of the Civil Service Employees Association, the union representing employees, held a demonstration on the sidewalk outside the county building, holding up signs and chanting.
“You should be working with us to come up with different solutions,” said Kathy Garrison, CSEA’s Capital Region president. “Someone will figure out how to make money. It will be on the backs of workers, but it will be on the backs of residents, too.”
Some speakers said they’d be willing to pay more taxes to keep the nursing home in county ownership.
“Raise the taxes. I’m willing to pay an extra 10 bucks a month or so to maintain Maplewood Manor,” said Cliff Ammon of Saratoga Springs, who gave an impassioned speech that drew applause.
Tyler and several other speakers called for a public referendum to be held on the proposed sale. That’s unlikely to happen, though. County Attorney Stephen Dorsey said after the hearing that the board’s action isn’t subject to referendum, even if people petition for a vote.