Nursing home suitors surface

County picks two finalists for Pine Haven purchase

HUDSON–The county has narrowed its choice of private companies offering to purchase the county-owned Pine Haven nursing home in Philmont to two candidates, and both made their pitches to the Board of Supervisors Monday evening.

Premier Health Care Management, headquartered in Great Neck, Long Island, has bid $6.5 million for the 120-bed Pine Haven Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility on state Route 217. Centers Health Care, based in the Bronx, has bid $5.4 million. Both companies manage numerous nursing homes and related facilities around the state.

The county was actively pursuing construction of a new nursing home near the Pine Haven site until the summer of 2013, when rising costs and the prospect of lower government reimbursements led county lawmakers to change course and consider selling the facility to a private owner. County Board of Supervisors Chairman Pat Grattan (R-Kinderhook) said at the public meeting at the County Office Building on State Street Monday that after reviewing responses to the county’s request for proposals for the sale, the board has settled on Premier and Centers as the two “co-finalists.” About 50 people in addition to the supervisors attended the meeting.

Both firms outlined plans to renovate Pine Haven, which was built in the 1970s and both said their policies are to retain almost all the workers at nursing facilities they purchase. They also said they would pay “market value” salaries and would not reduce current pay scales except where compensation was out of line with nursing home industry standards. The CEO of each company said the firm’s interest is in operating nursing homes with no intention of shutting the facility.

The CEO of Premier, Bruce Peckman, said his company has facilities in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota, Florida and New Jersey. He described his firm as “not a large group” but a “very selective one.” He said the company purchases “county or not-for-profit nursing homes that were struggling to stay alive.”

Last December Columbia Memorial Hospital announced that it was selling its Kaaterskill Care Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility in Catskill to Premier. CMH representatives visited Premier facilities prior to the sale. Mr. Peckman also said Premier also recently purchased Timberlyn Heights Rehabilitation and Care Center in Great Barrington.

“Every facility we purchase tends to be an old facility,” Mr. Peckman said, adding that the company plans usually involve “completely” renovating the facility. An associate of Mr. Peckman said that the company expected to spend between $2 million and $2.5 million over 2 or 3 years to upgrade Pine Haven.

Centers Health Care CEO Kenny Rozenberg, during his presentation, described Pine Haven as “a little dated,” and said his company would renovate Pine Haven, with a concentration on patient rooms. Both companies–the two CEOs have known each other for over a decade–said they could accomplish the upgrades while operating the facility and without disruptions in care.

Both companies also said they had good relationships with unions representing workers at their various facilities.

Mr. Rozenberg, a paramedic, said his company focuses almost exclusively on New York state facilities, with an emphasis on rehabilitation services. “They come in sick and they leave healthy,” he said. He and other company officials emphasized that staff at the facility would remain local and that decisions at its facilities are made on a local or regional basis. He said that Pine Haven was currently operating at only 74% of its full capacity, called the patient census, and should be operating at “98% to 99%.” He said he expected his company could increase the Pine Haven census within 90 days of purchasing the facility.

Katy O’Connor, vice president of clinical reimbursement and therapy services for Centers Health Care, said that the company has 6,000 nursing home beds around the state and that the company’s specialists circulate among the facilities rather than remaining in their offices. “Our expertise is in turning around distressed facilities,” she said, emphasizing the training the company requires of all employees.

Addressing the issue of switching to a for-profit model from a publicly funded government operation, Mr. Rozenberg said his company does not discharge patients when it takes over an existing facility, noting, “85% of our patients across the state are Medicaid.”

He said that when his company takes over a nursing facility, “resources go up.” And, citing another benefit of private ownership, he said, “We’ll be a taxpayer.”

A handful of supervisors asked questions about pay, benefits and quality of service and then the audience had a chance to speak. Timothy Smith, who said his wife worked at Whittier, a private nursing facility on Route 66 in Ghent, asked why the companies would want to take over Pine Haven. “There’s not a lot of money there,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Peckham responded first, saying his company was already committed to the area with its facilities in Catskill and Great Barrington.

Mr. Rozenberg said his company could erase the financial losses at Pine Haven and added, “we can elevate the care and quality of care.”

A woman who worked at Pine Haven said she had heard that the companies would cut the staff and reduce wages. Both CEO’s said that was not what happened at other facilities they have purchased and would not happen at Pine Haven. Mr. Rozenberg said his company would try to keep the rate of compensation the same and retain more than 90% of the existing staff in what he said would be a “seamless” transition.

Mr. Peckman said that cutting jobs for local people would “demoralize” staff and interfere with the effort to upgrade the nursing home.

Both companies also noted state regulations that nursing facilities provide a homelike atmosphere for residents and patients, one that allows them to have familiar objects and decorations.

Bookkeeping and billing are centralized features of both companies, and the company officials said those jobs at Pine Haven would be lost, although they said that there might be other positions available for those Pine Haven employees. Pine Haven has about 200 full- and part-time employees.

Mr. Grattan said that the county has not yet determined that it will sell Pine Haven, but that decision is likely to be made in the next few months by the board’s Pine Haven subcommittee. If and when the facility is sold, the buyer will have to obtain a certificate of need from the state before the transaction takes place and a new owner can take over.

 

 

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