ELIZABETHTOWN - One of Essex County's most outspoken lawmakers says government has a moral obligation to take care of the elderly.
At Monday's meeting of the full county Board of Supervisors, Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava made another public appeal for the county to not sell its Horace Nye Nursing Home in Elizabethtown.
"I'm going to get labeled as a liberal for this, but I'm going to say it anyway," Scozzafava said. "Some things, some of government's prime responsibilities, is an obligation to help those that can't help themselves. I'm not talking about long generations of people on welfare and so on. But you need a safety net out there somewhere."
This sign on state Route 9N near Elizabethtown, seen here Monday, calls on taxpayers to voice their support for the Horace Nye Nursing Home, which the county may sell to save money.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
"Government can't always act as a private business," he added. "You can't do it. It's impossible."
Scozzafava, a Republican, said if the county slashed all of its non-mandated programs, like the nursing home, it could reduce taxes drastically in the next budget. He said the county gives North Country Community College nearly $2.6 million when "charge backs" are included.
"Have we talked about getting out of the college business? Absolutely not," Scozzafava said. "The point I'm trying to make is I feel, in my opinion, some of these services we are morally obligated to provide to our constituency."
Richard Tromblee, of Moriah Corners, spoke to the board before the meeting. He opposes the sale of the nursing home. He said he's done his own research and found that publicly operated facilities are better.
"Residents in private nursing homes fare less well," Tromblee said.
Tromblee said the first thing a private firm would do after purchasing Horace Nye would be to cut employees to increase profits. He cited state reports that claimed issues like moldy foods and administration of wrong medications increased after some nursing homes were privatized.
"If the supervisors were to stop and think it out, their best deal would be to build a new nursing home with 100 to 120 beds, with an Alzheimer's care unit," Tromblee said, noting that the number of Americans suffering from Alzheimer's is projected to increase to 16 million by 2050.
Following Tromblee's remarks, Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston said there's an "overabundance of misinformation" being circulated about the potential sale of Horace Nye.
"There's people that think there's people going to be put out on the street, jobs gone, and that's really not the case," Preston said.
"If you go online to the (state) Department of Health website and look at the inspection reports for the Horace Nye home versus the three places that have bid, you're going to find that our public-owned home did not fare well in patient care, and it's right there in black and white," he added.
Preston said the emotions need to be removed from the picture when discussing the possible sale.
Jay town Supervisor Randy Douglas, the board's chairman, said supervisors will be able to visit nursing homes run by the three bidders before a vote is taken on whether to sell.
"If we do decide to go to a private-run nursing home, to sell, I believe we will have done our job and our duty," he said.
County Manager Dan Palmer wrapped up Monday's discussion by noting that since 2001, the county has spent $21 million to cover operations at Horace Nye.
"The nursing home was set up as an enterprise fund, meaning it was supposed to pay for itself," he said. "Since 2001, we've fallen $21 million short of that. And it's only going to get worse."
The board voted to seek best and final offers from three parties that submitted bids for $4 million last month: Gerald J. Woods, CPA, in Baldwin in Nassau County; Eliot Management Group of Monsey in Rockland County; and the Centers for Specialty Care in the Bronx. Those bids have already been submitted, but supervisors won't unseal them until 5 p.m. Monday at the earliest.
At last week's Ways and Means Committee meeting, Scozzafava noted those bids were already solicited by Marcus and Millichap, a real estate investment firm based in Chicago. He said the board was skirting the legislative process by voting on the resolution after the bids were already received.
"Competitive bidding lays out ground rules for buying," he said. "Those rules don't apply to sale of county property."
Manning said municipal case law provides "very little direction" as to how a county should go about selling property.
"It simply says it should be sold to highest responsible bidder; it does not tell you how to do this," he said.
The county has solicited public bids for the nursing home and advertised its sale in newspapers and through Marcus and Millichap. Manning added that the new bids are sealed and have not been reviewed or accepted.
Manning noted that Marcus and Millichap, as the county's broker, has an obligation to get the highest price for the nursing home.
"I decided that because we had three bidders, we should go back to them to try to get the highest price from the best responsible bidder," he said. "Marcus and Millichap could have done it themselves. But I decided to get the resolution. I want it as a belt and suspenders to show that we're trying to do our due diligence and to comply with county law."
But Manning conceded that last week's Ways and Means Committee vote wasn't procedurally correct.
"Sometimes this happens," he said. "I don't know of any reason it happened that way. The brokers wanted to get their jobs done. Was it correct? No. Can it be ratified today? Yes."