The Saratoga County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to transfer the money-losing Maplewood Manor nursing home to a local development corporation, a key step toward selling it.
The divisive measure passed by a wide margin — 16-5 — during a meeting in Ballston Spa, but opponents hope to be able to bring the matter to a public referendum and overturn the decision.
“Our legal department is looking into what avenues we can take going forward,” said Therese Assalian, a spokeswoman for the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents many Maplewood Manor employees.
Dorothy Tyler of Citizens Advocate for a Sustainable Maplewood Manor said she will circulate petitions seeking a public referendum — though county officials have said the decision isn’t subject to referendum.
“I’m told by our county attorney that this was not set up to require public referendum, and state law doesn’t require it,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Alan R. Grattidge, R-Charlton.
Tyler said she’s consulted an attorney who feels the transfer can be subject to a referendum if enough people sign petitions.
Supporters of the transfer say it’s the only viable way to address the financial problems of the 237-bed infirmary in Ballston Spa, which loses $8 million to $10 million a year — losses county taxpayers must cover. The sale plan was recommended last summer by Harris Beach, a law firm hired by the county to develop options for addressing the losses.
Supervisor Phil Barrett, R-Clifton Park, said the blame for unsustainable losses belongs with the state, which sets the reimbursement rates for Medicaid patients. Most Maplewood Manor residents are on Medicaid.
“Our facility loses close to $20,000 a day. It can’t possibly break even, and that’s because of the reimbursement system,” he said.
He noted that counties around the state are looking at selling publicly owned nursing homes because they are receiving so little revenue — particularly from Medicaid — in return for providing patient care.
“The state’s continued abdication of its responsibility to address the problems that bring us here today is where the problem lies,” said Supervisor John E. Lawler, R-Waterford.
The county’s plan is to transfer ownership to a new local development corporation whose board will be controlled by supervisors. Five of the seven board members will be supervisors.
The plans calls for the LDC to hire a broker early this year to sell the nursing home. The broker would help set terms of sale and solicit bids, then recommended a private purchaser from among the bidders.
Grattidge said a purchaser should be selected by the end of the 2013. A required state Health Department review of the sale would keep the deal from closing before late 2014.
In the interim, the LDC would be able to borrow money against the future sale price to help cover the anticipated operating losses in 2013 and 2014. The 2013 county budget assumes the LDC will borrow $6 million to cover this year’s operating losses.
“Absent the money the bonds are going to bring, we would be laying off people as we speak,” Lawler said.
Voting against the transfer were Preston Jenkins, D-Moreau; Dan Lewza, R-Milton; Richard Lucia, R-Corinth; Patti Southworth, I-Ballston; and Joanne Yepsen, D-Saratoga Springs.
“My priorities are quality care for our seniors and good financial planning, and the transfer to an LDC does neither,” Yepsen said.
Mary Boszowski of Senior Living Specialists, a consultant in Saratoga Springs, said Maplewood Manor is needed within the county’s overall health care system, especially because it accepts Medicaid patients who otherwise don’t have the money for nursing home care.
“We need to have a countywide discussion about addressing the financial challenges of Maplewood Manor,” she told supervisors during public comment before the vote. “I urge supervisors to vote no on transferring Maplewood Manor and launch a broader public discussion.”
Grattidge said it was time for the supervisors, as elected representatives, to make the decision, following months of discussion.
“At this point the board felt the financial situation was such that as elected representatives we felt action had to be taken,” he said after the vote.