Supes OK plan to seek bids for Pine Haven
HUDSON—The Columbia County Board of Supervisors voted overwhelmingly last week for a resolution authorizing county officials to seek proposals from private parties interested in purchasing the Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philmont.
Officials have said that Pine Haven will owe the county $4 million that must come from the county budget in the coming year and the county may need to sell the facility to avoid a 10% hike in the property tax levy to offset that large a cost.
But on June 12 , the day after the Board of Supervisors voted to seek purchase proposals, an official of the union representing Pine Haven employees told the board’s Pine Haven Subcommittee that the county has used the nursing home’s operating account to pay for costs that were not operating expenses.
Shawn Morse, a labor relations representative for the United Pubic Service Employees Union, told the subcommittee that after the county used the funds for purposes other than operating expenses, Pine Haven ran short money to pay its regular bills and the county had to come up with the funds. But, he said, the county called that a bailout for the nursing home when it was actually a refund.
For example, said Mr. Morse, through 2013 Columbia County took a total of $811,089 from the Pine Haven operations account to pay for a water tower and miscellaneous Pine Haven capital projects.
He also said that when the county was fined $400,000 by the state for not reporting something called its GASB 45 on time, the county took that money from the Pine Haven operations account. A GASB (Governmental Accounting Standards Board) Statement 45 is an accounting requirement for government employers, who must report their post-employment benefits liabilities other than pensions. This includes costs like medical care and long-term disability.
The result was to leave the nursing home operating account depleted by $1.2 million. “This is a major reason that Pine Haven Nursing Home is short on operating costs,” Mr. Morse said at the subcommittee meeting.
As to the facility’s overall financial picture, Mr. Morse said, “Not all expenditures in the financial reports are actual cash-related items. They show as an expense to the facility but do not require the outlay of tax dollars. These include $1 million in depreciation, $805,984 in shared county costs (such as Internet technology and human resources) and a GASB 45 of $6.2 million. GASB is not an actual dollar expense, said Mr. Morse, but a liability for the future cost of healthcare benefits (not funded) and only a projection. It will change “many times over the years,” he said.
This is a total of $8 million of non-cash expenses, he said. These are accounting figures, not real expenses.
Even if Pine Haven were privatized, Columbia County would continue to have costs, he said, such as the shared, indirect costs that amount to $259,284 in 2014, an increase of $49,673 over 2013. These include the cost of healthcare for Pine Haven retirees.
Mr. Morse stressed throughout his presentation that the Pine Haven employees want to work with the county to keep the nursing home a public facility. “I met with a number of people who work for Pine Haven,” he said, “and their passion, their willingness to be a partner in an attempt to reduce costs was remarkable. They understand the importance of Pine Haven to the community, to them and their families.”
In a written follow-up emailed after the meeting, Mr. Morse said he and the employees believe that they can save “upwards of $700,000, in both current and future costs.”
The supervisors had no comment and few questions for Mr. Morse. They heard him despite the full board’s vote the day before. Only Clifford “Kippy” Weigelt (R-Claverack) and Raymond Staats (D-Clermont) voted against the resolution.
Discussion at the subcommittee meeting turned to the Pine Haven census–the number of residents– which continues to decline. Michael McCarthy, CPA, in a June 11 presentation to the full board of supervisors said, “In the seven years I’ve been at Pine Haven [as auditor], the average occupancy was 90 to 96%.”
At this time, however Arthur Proper, Pine Haven administrator, reports an 85% residency rate. Each percentage point represents about $100,000 in annual revenue, he told the committee.
Mr. Proper has said that prospective residents are declining to come to Pine Haven because they are “uncertain” about the status of the facility. He did not know on June 12 if the trend was similar at other nursing homes. But on Tuesday Courtney Tamburro of the county staff reported that all of the 120 beds at Livingston Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation Center were occupied, and at Barnwell Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 224 of 236 beds were occupied.
At the subcommittee session Supervisor Art Bassin (D-Ancram) asked why privatization of Pine Haven would make a difference.
“Pine Haven provides care at one level, a private facility at another level,” said Mr. Morse. “The only way to make money is to cut staff, which cuts care.”
He believes that professional recruitment, an improved billing system and the new facility the county planned would improve the financial picture. “The board looks at dollars,” he said, “but behind the curtain there’s a moral obligation by the county to take care of the poorest. With private care, this won’t happen. At $9 per hour, employees can’t pay a mortgage in Hudson or Claverack.”
Rounded to the nearest dollar, a certified nurse’s assistant at Pine Haven currently earns $16 per hour, a licensed practical nurse $22 per hour and a registered nurse $25 per hour, according to figures supplied by Mr. Morse.
Having estimated that Pine Haven’s debt to Columbia County was close to $2 million, rather than the $4 million reported by Board Chairman Patrick Grattan (R-Kinderhook) Mr. Morse said, “A lot of things we pay for in county government cost more than $2 million.”