EDITORIAL: Yes, the home is for sale

REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY WORKS on some kids. Tell a child she can’t have something you want her to eat and in theory that’ll make her want it. This wisdom probably came from adult who had no children. Few kids are so easily fooled. But what about grownups?

The county Board of Supervisors has engaged in a large scale reverse psychology experiment using taxpayers as the subjects. It involves the decision to sell the Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Wait, that’s wrong. It involves the we-haven’t-decided-to-sell-Pine-Haven sale of Pine Haven.

It comes up every time there’s a development along the way to disposing of the county’s 120-bed nursing home in Philmont. The home and rehab facility employs about 200 people and many of these workers are fearful about the fate of their jobs once a private owner takes over. There are other concerns, too, but that’s jumping ahead.

Pine Haven was built in the 1970s and needs an upgrade or replacement. A few years ago the county decided to build a new nursing home and rehab facility, Pine Haven Jr., in a nearly inaccessible part of the woods near the existing building. But in August 2013, not long after the county got serious about building the new place, a respected organization called The Center for Governmental Research produced a bleak report on the status and future of nursing homes owned by counties in New York. One of its conclusions said: “The financial stability of county homes has eroded substantially over the past several years,” and went on to report that 92% of the county owned nursing homes lost money in 2010. It didn’t offer much hope for improvement either.

After the report appeared the Board of Supervisors, led by Chairman Pat Grattan (R-Kinderhook), threw the whole process into full reverse, shutting down the planning for the new home and starting the search for a private sector angel. They were looking for somebody who would take Pine Haven off the county’s books and avoid the need for a tax increase, which could be politically costly for the board’s Republican majority.

What got left out of the new bye-bye Pine Haven plan was transparency. It was replaced by an absurd assertion: “We haven’t made a decision to sell Pine Haven.” This has been endlessly repeated and was mouthed once again at a special public meeting this week at which board members and the public heard from the two companies chosen as “co-finalists” in the competition… to buy Pine Haven.

County leaders insist that, no, no, no, they really haven’t decided to sell Pine Haven. Do they think that will make taxpayers beg them to sell the place? If taxpayers do support the sale it might be because that’s the best way to make county leaders shut up about not being ready to sell it.

What Mr. Grattan and fellow supervisors really mean to say is that they haven’t yet decided which bidder will get Pine Haven. That may sound like a quibble, but it’s about much more than grammar. The decision to sell Pine Haven was made a year and a half ago and no amount of dressing it up as an effort to keep an open mind on the sale can hide that. It certainly didn’t fool the companies interested in buying the place. They knew better than the county what a financial burden Pine Haven has become.

The bidders seem well qualified and have promised to retain jobs and improve Pine Haven. We will need more and more clean, comfortable and responsive facilities because our population is aging and the average age in this county is one of the oldest in the state. It’s a growing market for good companies. So if the winner can turn Pine Haven around and make it profitable and attractive to patients, all the lead-up will be forgotten and Mr. Grattan and his supporters will be celebrated for acting quickly and decisively to stem the flow of red ink.

But even if that happens the experience has added to the cynicism the public has about the way politicians try to manipulate us by saying one thing when they mean another.

The process of choosing a bidder is political by definition–that’s how our democracy works. But when the county tells us how much the deal is worth to us taxpayers, remember to subtract something for the cost in time and effort our leaders spent trying to convince us that they meant what they said.

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