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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • CSEA: Health care facility sale not legal

  • The CSEA, the state’s largest public employees union, is challenging the pending sale of the Steuben County Health Care Facility in state Supreme Court.

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  • The CSEA, the state’s largest public employees union, is challenging the pending sale of the Steuben County Health Care Facility in state Supreme Court.
    The sale process violated state law, claimed the CSEA, which represents workers at the county-owned 105-bed nursing home, located on Mt. Washington Road in Bath.
    According to the CSEA lawsuit filed last week Steuben County broke the law by declaring the nursing home to be surplus property “no longer necessary for public use” in putting the facility on the market.
    “The Steuben County Health Care Facility is clearly needed by the public,” CSEA Western Region President Flo Tripi said in a prepared statement. “The county has a responsibility to ensure care will be there for the frail elderly and those in need. Declaring the home as surplus is, at best, deceptive and it puts future care at risk.”
    The county also broke the law by hiring real estate marketing company Marcus and Millichap to solicit buyers, rather than putting it out for open bidding, CSEA spokesman Roger Sherrie.
    “It has to be a public bidding process done with full accountability and transparency,” Sherrie said.
    The county reached a deal in December with Centers for Specialty Care Group - a private firm that operates 22 nursing homes and other health care facilities in New York and New Jersey - to sell the Steuben County Health Care Facility for $10.75 million.
    The sale is still in the process of being finalized, Alger said Monday.
    The county made the decision to sell the facility after operating it at a loss for many years. In recent years, it was losing $2 million to $3 million annually - a drain the county could no longer afford, Alger said.
    “We’d been paying for the losses out of the fund balance for the health care facility, and now, out of the general fund balance, so we haven’t been charging taxpayers directly, but that’s just a matter of time,” Alger said. “One of the reasons we’re taking this action is to avoid having to put it on the tax levy.”
    Counties in New York are under no legal obligation to provide a nursing home for residents, and many have either already privatized them or are considering doing so, Alger said.
    “I’m aware of at least six or eight different counties that are in the process of doing this,” he said.
    That’s because state policy essentially encourages counties to get out of the nursing home business by providing lower Medicaid reimbursement rates to publicly owned facilities than to privately owned ones, Alger said.
    Forthcoming changes in the Medicaid reimbursement rate would cause Steuben to lose even more money annually on the nursing home, he added.
    Page 2 of 2 - Sherrie said the CSEA agrees that taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for public nursing homes operating at a loss. He says the CSEA is fighting at the state level to increase Medicaid reimbursements.
    “We would hope that many of the counties would join us in these efforts, rather than simply cutting bait,” Sherrie said.
    Privatizing a county-run nursing home has a negative impact for “residents, the families and the workers,” Sherrie said.
    Also, he said, companies that have taken over public facilities have often shut them down a few years later due to financial difficulties.
    That can leave families scrambling to find a new nursing home for their loved ones, he said. In some cases, counties become responsible again for the mortgage on the building, he added.
    That’s why the CSEA has been fighting privatizations in court across New York, Sherrie said. The union was able to halt the sale of Otsego County’s nursing home on grounds similar to the challenge in Steuben, and cases in two other counties are still in court, he said.
    Steuben County built a new $17 million health care facility in 2008, mostly covered by state aid. The county was promised a higher level of funding from the state that would help it break even on operating costs, but that never materialized, county lawmakers have said.
    There’s about 140 fulltime workers at the Steuben County Health Care Facility, the majority represented by CSEA, Alger said.
    A hearing on the CSEA lawsuit in state Supreme Court, Steuben County, has been set for mid-May.
    Steuben County Attorney Alan Reed is reviewing the CSEA’s lawsuit, Alger said.
    Centers for Specialty Care Group also recently acquired Founders Pavilion, a nursing home in downtown Corning. A company spokesman could not be reached for comment Monday on the CSEA’s attempt to stop its acquisition of the Bath facility.
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