PLATTSBURGH - The Clinton County Legislature will proceed with pursuing bids to privatize its home healthcare services.
The legislature met in regular session at the Clinton County Government Center March 16, where representatives voted 8-1 in favor of putting forth a request for proposals to "explore alternatives for home healthcare." Legislator Samuel J. Trombley, R-Area 2, cast the sole dissenting vote. Legislator Jacqueline A. Walker, R-Area 8, was absent.
Dr. John W. Gallagher, D-Area 9 - one of the legislators who voted for the resolution - addressed an audience of several dozen people who turned out to speak against privatizing the services. Gallagher emphasized the decision does not lock the legislature into making a decision to move forward with privatization.
"Hearing what I've heard tonight, if were voting on selling the home health care license tonight, I would be voting no. But, I have to vote to explore the alternatives," Gallagher said.
The matter was brought before the legislature following an increasingly large amount of money hemorrhaged by the Clinton County Health Department for operating home healthcare services. Last year, the services cost the county more than $5 million to operate, and brought in less than $3.5 million, resulting in a more than $1.5 million loss.
"Personally, I don't care if we make a single penny," said Legislator Keith Defayette, R-Area 5, "but I don't think we can continue to bleed to the tune of two, then maybe three, then maybe four million dollars in the outlying years."
Prior to the vote, legislators heard from members of the public, voicing their concerns over the idea of the county potentially giving up control of its home healthcare services.
Registered nurse Jill Parent questioned what would happen to those in need of long-term care, like the patients she sees now. With an estimated average cost of $380 a day to live in a nursing home and what would be a flood of new clients for the facilities, the option of patients being placed in a nursing home is not an option at all, she said.
"The nursing homes in this county are full," Parent said. "So, where are they going to go? Another city? Another state? And, are we really going to rip them out of their homes, away from their family and their friends?"
Those who would choose to remain in their homes would run the risk of not receiving proper and routine medical treatment as they currently do, added Parent.
"They could die or at the very least, end up in the hospital, which in the end, is going to cost us all a lot more money," she said.
Rosemary Giroux, a registered nurse with the home healthcare unit, said the problem lies with the fact Medicaid/Medicare reimbursement rates have declined in recent years."If you want the cost to be smaller, the best way to accomplish this is to keep control of directly providing services and not put control in someone else's hands," Giroux said.
Others who spoke made suggestions for cutting expenses within the home healthcare unit, including maximizing revenue through co-pays, offering more training that will ultimately make the department more efficient, and computerizing medical charts to reduce paperwork.
"If those things can be done and make a difference, then I say they need to be explored," said Legislator Sara E. Rowden, D-Area 4.
When voting against pursuing with the RFP, Trombley stated he was compelled by those speaking during the public forum against the move.
"I came here tonight in the interest of supporting this," said Trombley, referring to voting for moving ahead with the RFP. "But, I learned an awful lot here tonight ... And, as the chairman of the human services committee, I guess I'd be a hypocrite if I was to vote for this."
However, Gallagher and other legislators reiterated the vote would not lock the legislature into any sort of agreement.
"Just for clarification, several of the legislators indicated that if the vote tonight was to sell the licenses, the vote would have been no, and I think that's important to note," Gallagher said.
Regardless, the state must approve any potential decision to privatize home healthcare services, according to County Administrator Michael E. Zurlo.