For sale: Nursing home with debts

Committee advises seeking buyers for Pine Haven

HUDSON—The Health and Medical Service Committee of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors voted May 29 to recommend the county issue a request for proposals for the possible sale of the Pine Haven Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Philmont.

Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook) invoked his ability as chairman of the Board of Supervisors to serve on any committee, in order to break a tie vote of 3-3. Mr. Grattan voted for the resolution, as did committee chairman John Porreca (R-Greenport) and members Sarah Sterling (D-Hudson First Ward) and Jesse DeGroodt (NOP, Chatham).

Voting nay were Supervisors Edward Cross (D-Hudson Second Ward), Raymond Staats (D-Clermont) and Clifford “Kippy” Weigelt (R-Claverack). Supervisors William Hughes (D-Hudson Fourth Ward) and Erik Tyree (R-Taghkanic) were absent.

The resolution will now go before the full board Wednesday, June 11.

The request for proposals (RFP), if the resolution is adopted, will call for a private operator that will commit to Pine Haven’s remaining in Philmont, to preserve the number of residents (120) and employees in the home (currently 200, full-time or part-time) and to offer new positions to Columbia County residents. Potential purchasers will make their proposals to the full Board of Supervisors.

A separate resolution, authorizing the county to move forward with construction of a new skilled nursing facility, was also proposed. On April 24 the board’s Pine Haven Subcommittee had recommended to the full Medical Services Committee that the county stop work on the $32-million Pine Haven project, the plan for a new 128-bed skilled nursing and rehabilitation facility.

This resolution was tabled by a unanimous vote because some committee members said they did not have enough information to vote.
“Yesterday we were hit with everything,” said Mr. Weigelt, referring to the May 28 presentation to the full board by Donald Pryor, PhD, of the Center for Government Research, author of “The Future of County Nursing Homes in New York State.” What Mr. Weigelt took away from the hour-long presentation was Dr. Pryor’s advice to the supervisors to “take your time” and do due diligence before making any changes.

“The more I learn, the less I seem to know,” agreed Mr. DeGroodt. As to whether or not to build a new facility, he said, “I don’t know enough in either direction.”

Mr. Staats said at last Thursday’s meeting that county officials “haven’t implemented any of the savings” suggested by Arthur Proper, Pine Haven administrator, or the union representing Pine Haven employees. “I’m not going to vote. I need another month,” he said. During this month, it was agreed, Shawn Morse, labor relations representative from United Public Service Employees, will talk to the Pine Haven Subcommittee.

“No savings will amount to $32 million,” said Mr. Grattan, and state reimbursement for the construction project is uncertain.
Further, he said, the county’s required Certificate of Need from New York State expires in October 2015, “and the building is supposed to be complete by then.”

From the audience, Ron Caponera, county director of accounts payable, agreed, saying that Michael McCarthy, auditor for Pine Haven, said that the building would have to be at least under construction for the Certificate to be renewed.

After voting to table the building resolution, the committee debated the RFP resolution. “What the RFP does is give us a handful of real operators who will describe how they will operate Pine Haven and why that will be a good thing for the residents and employees,” said Art Bassin (D-Ancram), a member of the Pine Haven Subcommittee. “They could dispel a lot of what we’ve been hearing about what awful things operators will do.
“We need to look at track records and find out if there is anyone out there we can trust,” he continued. “Until we do, we don’t know if there is anyone we want to do business with. We might find out there are none. Or we might find one.”

There are 680 nursing home beds in Columbia County, said Mr. Grattan, and the majority are in privately run facilities. “They seem to be successful,” he said. “The residents seem satisfied.”

“This is being thrown at us and now you want a decision,” Mr. Weigelt said. “Are we broke tomorrow?”

This year the county is supporting Pine Haven with “$1.38 million cash,” said Mr. Grattan, “and come December they’ll look for $900,000 for pension payments. We’re coming into budget season. There will have to be a line item in the budget for Pine Haven next year.”

Pine Haven “is into us for $4.8 million,” said Mr. Caponera. The Intergovernmental Transfer for county nursing home support is $2.6 million, but half of that goes to the state, he said. That lowers Pine Haven’s debt to the county to $3.5 million, but “at the end of the year they’ll owe $5 million.”

Mr. Staats wanted to table this resolution too. “I’m not really serious about this until I have the answers,” he said.

Mr. Bassin pointed out that it would take about 60 days just to develop the RFP, which then had to be approved by the full board and the state health department. “That gives us two more months of fact-finding,” he said. “We don’t want to lose that time if we don’t have to.”

Supervisors Porreca, DeGroodt and Sterling agreed, with varying enthusiasm. Mr. Staats said he was still “concerned about quality” of care. He said private operators “hire less help and don’t accept difficult people,” adding, “We can’t abandon our seniors.”

Private operators “will publicly present their credentials and answer your questions,” Mr. Bassin responded.

“Maybe the only way to save Pine Haven is to sell it,” said Mr. Grattan.

“We also need to realize that we have a fiduciary responsibility to the 63,000 residents of Columbia County,” said county Treasurer P.J. Keeler from the audience. “We need a contingency plan for Pine Haven.”

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