LATHAM — Albany County officials led a tour Wednesday of the county-run nursing home, where the first parts of an $80 million renovation and expansion will be ready for occupancy in September.
They also formally announced the new name for what had been simply the “Albany County Nursing Home”: Shaker Place Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
The new name is a nod to the Shaker heritage of the area, which in the late 1700s became home to the first U.S. community of the Christian sect. But it’s also a move away from the word “county,” and its connotations of inferior quality of care, County Executive Daniel McCoy said.
A total of 70,000 square feet of space is being added to the circa-1971 facility.
When completed, the facility will contain many important and desirable upgrades that officials expect will increase revenue and make more people want to live there or place their loved ones there:
- It will allow residents to range farther from their rooms without risk of wandering off campus, allowing the facility to be 100 percent restraint-free.
- It will be entirely wheelchair-accessible.
- It will be more private, as existing double rooms are being replaced with single rooms and biaxial rooms, which have one shared bathroom between two private living quarters.
- The residents are being grouped into communities, each with its own courtyard and communal living area with kitchen.
- Quality of life will be improved so the nursing home is more like “home.”
McCoy recalled placing his own father at the old Albany County Nursing Home.
“I wasn’t happy when my dad was here,” he said.
Quality of care and quality of life have since improved and will continue to improve now with the physical improvements, he said.
The facility currently draws an above average rating for quality of care from federal regulators and a far-above average from state regulators.
But its overall federal rating is still rock-bottom: one star, far below average. Its state rating is three stars, or “average.”
Executive Director Larry Slatky said the overall ratings by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are based on three inspections, the most recent of which was in 2017. So it is not a real-time assessment, he said, is slow to change and is not a good gauge of current conditions.
Nonetheless, he said, he and the staff are very aware of the one-star rating and he believes they are making progress to improving it.
The 250-bed facility had a resident population of 182 on Wednesday morning and a workforce of about 250.
Many counties in and around the Capital Region — including Fulton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Warren and Washington — decided to stop subsidizing their costly nursing homes and sell them to private companies.
Rensselaer and Schenectady counties went in the opposite direction, building modern new facilities.
Albany County debated which way to go for a very long time.
It closed the older of its two nursing homes, the Ann Lee Home (named for Mother Ann Lee, leader of that first Shaker settlement). But it couldn’t decide whether to stay in the nursing home business, or how.
“When I was in the Legislature, 2000 to 2012, I saw six plans for the nursing home,” McCoy said.
By the time he was sworn in as county executive in 2012, the facility was running a $20 million annual deficit, a very difficult situation for an upstate New York county.
“My fight was, we had to change the model and change the way some of the contracts were with the workers, we had to change the building,” McCoy said. “We had to get people to change the way we were doing business here.”
After a lot of arguments and disagreements, he said, enough of a consensus emerged that they could move toward a solution.
The facility staff increased revenues, decreased expenses and pursued collection of old debt to the point that the $20 million annual deficit has dropped to $2 million by 2019. Because reimbursement rates are higher for newer facilities, McCoy said, Shaker Place should be operating in the black within two years.
The new design and new amenities will be the equal of any in the private sector, he added, and attract new residents — “It’s going to sell itself.”
The word “county” was dropped from the name so it would no longer sound like an old-style municipal institution, he added.
“We knew we had to change the name, because we want this to stand alone.”
The last remaining piece of the puzzle is the old Ann Lee Home, which sits not far from the new Shaker Place Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. It’s a prime location just across Route 155 from Albany International Airport, and has drawn interest from developers for hotel or office space.
But the county instead has used it as storage space, and is in protracted negotiations for sale to a veterans organization for redevelopment as veterans housing.
McCoy said the county is trying to be mindful of the site’s history as it finds a new use for Ann Lee Home.
“I could sell it tomorrow,” he said. “We are working hand-in-hand with the Shakers, and I’ve turned down a lot of offers for that reason.”