ELIZABETHTOWN - While Essex County officials don't entirely agree on what should be done with the Horace Nye Nursing Home, the sentiment they do share is something needs to change.
The Horace Nye task force committee met Sept. 17, and outlined the next steps in an ongoing process to ease the facility's burden on the county budget, either through privatization or a significant overhaul of operations.
Ultimately, they decided to continue their strategy thus far: explore possibilities for privatization while simultaneously considering how the facility can operate more cost effectively under county ownership.
Committee chair Roby Politi, supervisor of North Elba, stressed the need to take decisive action after having gleaned information from a number of sources showing the difficulty in getting a publicly-owned nursing home to operate in the black.
"It's a very difficult decision," Politi said. "It's something that nobody wants to discuss, but it has to be done now."
Politi outlined five options for the committee to consider, the first of which would be to rebuild the facility in a new location, allowing for new rates to be established and for the ability to add new services that could potentially bring in additional revenue.
"The cost will be in the millions of dollars," Politi said, "and I don't think it's something we can justify in these times."
In the committee's previous meeting Aug. 30, representatives from the Florida-based firm Traditions Management presented their proposal to act as a private operator of the county-owned facility, lowering costs significantly in exchange for five percent of the home's gross revenues.
The proposal, which drew a lukewarm response from county officials, was the only bid submitted in response to a request for proposals seeking to determine interest in the facility among private entities.
Politi said the second option would be to consider accepting this proposal, which would keep the home in county hands with a month-by-month contract for management services.
"I really can't see bringing in outside management while we continue to pay," said Moriah supervisor Tom Scozzafava.
The third option, said Politi, would be to seek a marketing broker to assist in selling the facility to a private entity.
Privatization would remove Horace Nye and its approximately $4 million net expenses from the county budget, but some fear the home would serve far less indigent seniors as a private institution. A private facility would also lead to fewer staff with lower pay since employees at the home would no longer be a part of union negotiations with the county.
Fourth, Politi noted, county officials could conduct their own intensive study to come up with new management strategies for Horace Nye that would reduce costs.
"If we decide to go in that direction, our county manager is going to have to make specific recommendations that we can move forward with."
The fifth option, according to Politi, would be to simply close Horace Nye, which represents one of the most expensive non-mandated services currently offered in Essex County.
"I don't think any member of this board of supervisors is in favor of that option," said Scozzafava.
"I look at these five choices, and I only see three and four as options we should be looking at," said Chesterfield supervisor Gerald Morrow. Most others generally agreed.
Scozzafava and others spoke against privatization, and Jay supervisor Randy Douglas said he'd received a 900-signature petition opposing the sale or closure of Horace Nye. Still, all generally agreed putting Horace Nye on the market would better allow the county to gauge interest from private companies.
"The companies that are interested in this type of project are not looking for RFPs," said county manager Dan Palmer, referring to a request for proposal. "They're looking for a broker to bring it to them."
According to Palmer, Medicaid-funded residents, which make up nearly 97 percent of residents at Horace Nye, still represent about 70-80 percent of beds at privately-run nursing homes.
Still, with the previous RFP receiving such limited interest, even those favoring privatization recognized the need for new operational strategies.
"If you can't market the place, the fallback is we need to run this facility," Politi said.