A legislator told us last week he feels it will take a public referendum to force the sale of the money-losing county-owned nursing home to a private sector owner.
What a shame.
Everyone would be better off if the County Legislature voted to get out of the nursing home business: the residents of the County Home, the elderly living in the north county, every single property owner and taxpayer in the county and perhaps the nursing staff.
Yes, the nurses. No doubt over-the-top benefits would be trimmed for everyone if a new owner takes over the nursing home. However, some of the staff - especially supervisors, technicians and RNs - might gain in wages because theirs are below the market average.
Clerical, administrative, maintenance and dietary wages are way above, which motivates their crusade to continue county ownership.
You may have read the letter to the Readers' Forum from Jim Walker of Falconer who wrote that without an uprising from the general populace, the County Home will continue to be a financial millstone around the necks of homeowners who are struggling to pay property taxes.
We are joining him today in urging everyone to call or write their legislators with one simple message:
Sell the County Home.
Here's a reminder of why:
Local taxpayers have been subsidizing the County Home at the rate of about a million dollars a year over the past few years.
That amount will increase. The County Home deficit is expected to be about $3.5 million for at least the next three years. County taxpayers will have to cover that cost.
The County Home has a deficit because it takes in only about 80 percent of what is needed to pay expenses.
The Civil Service Employee Association contract greatly limits the county's ability to make a lot of headway in making up the other 20 percent. For example, health and retirement benefits add 60 percent on top of the pay of public employees at the County Home. That is expected to increase to 65 percent by 2015. For comparison, non-government nursing homes in the area offer benefits that add about 20 percent to base pay.
Ways to reduce costs by $2.26 million that were identified in the most recent detailed study include non-existent give-backs by the county employee union and assumptions that state and federal aid will continue at current levels.
Even if all of the savings could be achieved, county taxpayers would still be on the hook for up to $1.3 million a year. As we said, with no savings in spending, the deficit is estimated to be $3.5 million.
Employee benefits at the County Home are way out of line with the private sector and cannot be changed without give-backs from the CSEA. The county nursing home employees, for example, have eight weeks of paid vacation a year and can qualify for up to 10 weeks off. The benefits are consuming a bigger and bigger portion of the County Homes operating budget. Ten years ago, benefits were 16 percent of the nursing home's operating expenses. Today, they are 24 percent.
By the way, the County Home is rated by the state as providing good care in most categories, but the best care is provided by other nursing homes in the county.
Under new ownership, the nursing home could offer a broader continuum of care for residents - assisted living, for example, so that senior citizens have a choice of avoiding full-blown nursing home care when all they need to remain independent is a bit of help.
With the county government struggling to stay under the state-imposed 2 percent cap on increases in property taxes, the spiraling cost of the deficit-ridden County Home will continue taking more and more money away from other county programs and services that should be funded.
Call or write legislators to tell them it is time to stop the multi-million subsidy of a nursing home that could be run just as well, and likely better, by a non-government owner.