Deal set for health certificate

Mary Perham

Public health services in Steuben County will be in the hands of a private group by the middle of next year.

County Administrator Mark Alger said legislators have approved a deal with VNA, the Visiting Nursing Association of Western New York, a non-profit agency based in Buffalo.

The contract is still being negotiated, with the preliminary terms calling for VNA to pay Steuben $1 million for its public health operating certificate, county Administrator Mark Alger said.

VNA is the largest home health agency in Western New York, according to its website. The agency serves more 24,000 patients annually with more than 500,000 home visits, the website said.

Alger said legislators expect the six-month transition from Steuben to VNA to be seamless, with patients continuing to receive the same care. The county’s current public health staff will likely work with the new agency for some time, Alger said.

A major concern of the county Legislature was the need for residents to be served regardless of where they are located in the vast, rural county.

“(VNA) has a good track record of taking on difficulties and providing service,” Alger said. “That was one of the things in its favor.”

The Legislature also looked at proposals from two for-profit groups, Alger said.

Steuben expects to receive the bulk of VNA’s payment in one lump sum, with the remainder stretched out over a longer period, Alger said.

The decision to sell came after a special committee investigated ways to reduce the county’s health care costs.

Steuben’s share of public health services ranges between $100,000-$200,000 every year, amounting to less than 1 percent in property taxes.

“It has gotten to be a challenge to provide those services, difficult to break even,” Alger said.

“This decision was made because of the (property) tax cap and lack of flexibility in going forward. No one wanted to do this. On the practical side, this takes us out of the business.”

County Legislature Chairman Joe Hauryski, R-Campbell, said the decision to sell the home health care certificate was immensely difficult. It should indicate where the county is headed, he said.

“This is nothing against the agency,” he said. “They have done wonderful things. And even though this happens to be the first service, well, this is just the beginning, folks. We have our backs up against the wall. And unless the state does something serious about mandate relief, (public health) won’t be the last.”

County officials warned last month they will begin cutting funds in 2013 to “outside” agencies, such as Cornell Cooperative Extension, libraries and the SPCA.

The special legislative committee’s recommendations on mental health services and the nursing home are expected some time next year.