Warren County Supervisor Mark Westcott of Queensbury talks to citizens gathered at a ‘Town Hall’ meeting he co-sponsored to discuss the pending sale of county-owned Westmount nursing home to Specialty Care Group of Manhattan. He urged that the county abandon a cogeneration operation at the home and solicit new purchase offers.
Past and present area political leaders were criticized for their handling of the cogeneration operation at Westmount nursing home — and the facility’s pending sale — at a public meeting held May 1 by three Warren County supervisors who have opposed the sale procedure and its proposed terms.
Several new ideas on the sale of Westmount, however were heard among the many criticisms aired at the meeting, held in Crandall Library by Mark Westcott and Doug Beaty of Queensbury and Peter McDevitt of Glens Falls. For months, Westcott and Beaty have been critical of the pending proposal of the Warren County Board of Supervisors to sell the home and its cogeneration operation to Specialty Care Group of Manhattan.
Beaty and Westcott have denounced the bid and negotiation processes, as well as the price of Specialty Care’s pending offer. They’ve also opposed selling the money-losing cogeneration operation along with the nursing home, citing that doing so may be depressing the sale price. They’ve also contended that a purchase offer received from Fort Hudson Health Systems of Fort Edward — a trusted local enterprise which employs many people from Warren and Washington counties — may not have been appropriately pursued.
At a Board of Supervisors meeting April 18, questions raised by Beaty, Westcott and several others prompted the board to vote “No” by a weighted vote of 501 to 499 on a motion to proceed with the planned sale to Specialty Care. This proposed sale involved the county guaranteeing Specialty Care reimbursement from the state for cogeneration costs — a provision that could cost county taxpayers up to $1.26 million over the next seven years.
Two supervisors believed to be supportive of the sale, however, were not present for the vote. Since then, county leaders scheduled a special board of supervisors meeting May 7, and a re-vote was expected to occur at the meeting.
In the meantime, about two dozen gathered at the “Town Hall” meeting held May 1 to drum up public support for opposing the sale as planned.
Several people at the meeting as well as Westcott said they opposed the pending sale provision that only requires Specialty Care to keep the nursing home open for five years.
“A five-year deal concerns me deeply,” Westcott said. “If they shut the nursing home down, what will happen to the 80 patients now at Westmount?”
The cogeneration operation has been conducted through a lease purchase deal devised by Seimens Building Technologies and instituted in 2005. While county leaders at the time claimed it had saved taxpayers more than $800,000 in utility costs over several years, it had actually lost them plenty, according to several independent engineering analyses. Losses — when including the capital costs of the equipment — have been estimated at several million dollars.
The pending sale terms include continuing the co-generation operation, and the county guaranteeing partial compensation for the cogeneration costs if the state doesn’t follow through with their pledged Medicaid payments toward the operation. Such compensation was supposed to be $3.3 million over 16 years, but Warren County has only received $635,000 to date in the first nine years of the contract, Westcott noted. The state at this point has an overdue balance of $2.5 million they owe Warren County taxpayers, Westcott said.
“To guarantee Medicaid payments of $1.2 million more doesn’t make sense,” Westcott said. In response, Queensbury Town Board member Doug Irish suggested that the sale terms specify that Specialty Care receive compensation only after Warren County was fully compensated for the cogeneration costs.
Law enforcement authorities are now conducting a criminal investigation into the matter of how Seimens structured and implemented the cogeneration deal. Beaty warned at the May 1 meeting that if fraud is proven, Medicaid was likely to seek a refund of $1 million or more.
“It’s a rotten deal, and involves real liabilities,” he said.
Former county Treasurer Frank O’Keefe, who questioned the deal for years, noted that Seimens has been fined $1.5 billion for questionable deals they have devised.
“It’s hard to believe that 20 supervisors would go along with a contract like this,” he said. “It’s a tragedy.”
A number people at the meeting agreed that the county leaders in 2005 failed to appropriately negotiate the deal with Seimens. Several of them said the county leaders who were involved in the negotiation should be investigated.
Westcott noted that the county airport is now losing about $1 million per year, and the county’s Countryside Adult Home, which is hosting only 42 residents now, is running a deficit of $550,000.
Irish responded with a suggestion that Westmount and Countryside be consolidated to slash deficits by boosting efficiency.
Wescott responded, “Your idea is ‘right on!’”
Westcott noted that the original solicitation for Westmount sale bids prioritized creation of a health care campus on the 28 acres of land surrounding Westmount. He said Specialty
Care’s bid contained no such plans — but another bidder, Fort Hudson Health Care Systems, had entertained the idea — but didn’t want to take on the cogeneration.
McDevitt said that the property should be built out with the most modern facilities to accommodate the needs of the ever-increasing elderly population.
“We have a moral responsibility to assuring that our seniors reach the twilight of their lives receiving the very best care,” he said, criticizing the pending sale.
Regardless of the potential vote on May 7, the controversy is likely to continue, as the sale provisions will be negotiated over several months to reflect the supervisors concerns, county Administrator Paul Dusek has said. He and others have noted that if the county drags out the sale process, deficits from Westmount, an estimated $50,000 weekly, will be mounting up in the meantime.
Last week, the county hired Glens Falls attorney Larry Paltrowitz to analyze engineering reports and advise the county on whether to sue Siemens over mis-stated “savings” of the cogeneration operation — which were apparently financial losses. The supervisors also voted to hire him for up to $60,000 to help negotiate the sale of Westmount. Irish criticized the decision.
“Why do we have two attorneys working for the county that we pay $300,000 per year and we’re hiring a third to explore suing Seimens?” he said.