New $ no balm to Pine Haven

County officials still expect red ink from nursing home operations

HUDSON—The Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philmont is about to receive more money from the federal government than local officials anticipated. A lot more. But county officials are still weighing whether to sell the county run nursing home to a private buyer to avoid having to raise taxes to keep it–or an even bigger facility–running as a public service.

The Columbia County Department of Health is ready to process $2.5 million in federal intergovernmental transfer funds, Art Proper, administrator of Pine Haven, reported to the county Board of Supervisors Health and Medical Services Committee this week.

These funds, for the 2013 federal fiscal year, are $1 million more than Mr. Proper and the county had expected. The IGT program, as it is known, is in place through 2017, said Mr. Proper. Through it, federal money is granted to nursing homes and other agencies via a state formula. The governor approves the IGT every three years and sets a statewide cap, currently at $300 million.

“I don’t know the formula,” said Mr. Proper, but with the number of county-run nursing homes in decline, Pine Haven “could get a significant amount” in the next three years. “If I had to guess,” he said, “I think it would go up.”

Committee members heard this news without public comment. They had been expected to vote on the April 24 Pine Haven Subcommittee recommendation that the county stop work on the $32-million Pine Haven project–the plan for a new 128-bed skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility–and solicit proposals from those interested in purchasing Pine Haven.

But they did not vote, instead listening to various sides of the issue and planning an information meeting for Wednesday, May 28 at 2 p.m. at 401 State Street. At that time Donald Pryor, of the Center for Governmental Research, which pulled together the August 2013 study, “The Future of County Nursing Homes in New York State,” will address the committee, as will Michael McCarthy of McCarthy Conlon, LLP, which has prepared a draft audit of Pine Haven.

Speaking from the audience, board chairman Pat Grattan (R-Kinderhook) said that a special meeting of the committee is “anticipated” for Thursday, May 29 at 3 p.m.

In the meantime Mr. Proper reported that the Pine Haven census is down to 104 residents in the 120-bed facility. Referrals have declined, he said, and  “a couple of planned admissions didn’t happen” because of unease over the home’s status. The past month had seen nine admissions (eight from hospitals and one from an assisted living facility) and eight discharges (three back to their home, five to the hospital and two deceased). At the same time, four staff members had resigned.

Albert Wassenhove of Ghent chastised committee members for not attending a recent tour of Pine Haven with Bruce Gendron, regional administrator of the Centers for Specialty Care Group (CSCG). Only John Porreca (R-Greenport), who chairs the HMS Committee, and Art Bassin (D-Ancram) of the Pine Haven Subcommittee had attended.

Mr. Wassenhove, who was there, reported that Mr. Gendron called the Pine Haven kitchen overstaffed by three people. He also said that furniture and bedding in CSCG facilities was standardized, in contrast to Pine Haven, where residents can have furniture and bedding from home.
Mr. Wassenhove offered a critical evaluation of CSCG operations and concluded that the company would run the facility in a way that would not fit with the community.

Supervisor Sarah Sterling (D-Hudson First Ward) said that she had not been invited to join the tour. “I wasn’t informed,” she said.
Mr. Wassenhove questioned the financial numbers released by the county and said further that he would “take the $10 million off the table” for the Veterans Wellness Center that he wants to put into the current Pine Haven home once the new facility is built. He had two “roundtables” with Fr. Peter Young, he said, and Fr. Young said that his agency— Peter Young Housing, Industries and Treatment—had the money and would develop and run the veterans’ center at no cost to the county.

A March 24, 2014 article in the Times Union by James M. Odato reported, “The sprawling rehabilitation network created over five decades by the Rev. Peter Young is collapsing, and his lawyer is working to stave off state investigators attempting to get a criminal indictment from a nearly three-year probe of Young’s organization.” The article further reported that the Young agency had closed several of its centers “in recent weeks,” including one in Altamont and one near Syracuse.

Mr. Grattan has said that the county would have to allot $4 million to subsidize Pine Haven in its next budget, leading to a 10% tax increase.
“If you want to tax me an additional 10%, I’m agreeable,” Mr. Wassenhove told the committee. “I’m not here adversarially, but people expect more from their elected representatives. You have to be proactive.”

Mr. Grattan stood by the county’s figures, which came from the county’s auditors, he said, and from the county treasurer, “who wrote the checks,” and, on the cost of the new building, from the architect. “New York is our funding source this year,” he said, “but next year, it’s the County of Columbia.”

From the audience, Shawn Morse, a labor relations representative from United Public Service Employees, asked why the meetings were held weekday afternoons, when most working people cannot attend.

Mr. Grattan said that Mr. Pryor is coming from Rochester and the meeting might last four to five hours.

Mr. Morse questioned the county’s figures and pointed out that the county was receiving its largest IGT since that program started. “I will do everything in my power to work with you,” he said. “Rensselaer County just bought its nursing home. Albany is keeping its nursing home. You’re an important part in caring for the oldest, sickest. He also said the union had “an expert coming to speak” but did not say when.

“It took you two years to decide to build [the new facility], and now you decide to end it in a couple of weeks. You can’t look in the mirror and say you did your due diligence,” said Mr. Morse.
Throughout the meeting, the shouts of demonstrators in support of Pine Haven could be heard outside the county office building.

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