Warren County Supervisors voted Aug. 2 to seek proposals from private companies to operate Westmount Nursing Home, with a mandate that services be expanded, existing staff be retained, new jobs be created and that Medicaid patients would be accommodated. Neighboring Essex County and Washington County have recently taken action to privatize their nursing homes. Essex County’s facility, Horace Nye Nursing Home, has been operating at a substantial loss, and Washington County’s Pleasant Valley Home has also been operating at a loss as well as being cited for various clinical violations.
With Warren County’s Westmount nursing home facing future financial losses predicted to total millions of dollars, county supervisors voted unanimously Thursday Aug. 2 to explore privatizing the facility.
County Administrator Paul Dusek developed and presented the proposal Aug. 2 to the supervisors serving on the county Budget Committee, who then gave the initiative — to issue a Request for Proposals for the facility’s future operation — their overwhelming support.
Rather than envisioning it as a “fire sale” — dumping it for cash as other counties across the state have done — county Administrator Paul Dusek said that privatizing Westmount might be more of a public-private partnership that could benefit everyone.
He cited the resounding success of the Warren County railroad, which was a floundering concern until the county sought a development proposal which prompted Iowa Pacific Corp. to respond with an ambitious proposal that re-envisioned it with freight service, special events and a national publicity. The firm launched the Saratoga-North Creek Railway, following through on a contract tailored to the proposal, and the railway blossomed to surpass expectations.
In a similar fashion, the county could ask for private firms to submit proposals, that would have such minimum guarantees as:
1) Continued care of residents and the county’s elderly, including providing for those depending on Medicaid and Medicare;
2) Expanding the nursing home population or range of services — like developing assisted living facilities, adult day care and/or rehabilitation care;
3) Retaining existing employees; and
4) Creating new jobs.
The Supervisors serving on the county Budget Committee endorsed the concept of soliciting proposals as Dusek described, and the initiative was forwarded to the county’s Human Services Committee. The measure will likely be subject to consideration within weeks by the full county Board of Supervisors.
The proposal was undertaken in light of the operating deficits Westmount is now experiencing, and projections of how state and federal subsidies are to decrease substantially by 2012, Dusek said.
This year, Westmount applied $1.2 million of its reserve funds toward its operating budget and still had a shortfall of $584,000 bankrolled by the taxpayers. This operating shortfall is expected by 2016 to balloon to about $6 million, according to financial projections prepared several weeks ago by Dusek.
At the Aug. 2 meeting, Westmount Comptroller Becky Henkel said she believed there would be a lower deficits than those Dusek cited.
The supervisors, particularly Warrensburg Supervisor and county Budget officer Kevin Geraghty — as well as Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe — cited the need to continue to provide care for the county’s elderly who depend on Medicaid and Medicare.
Monroe noted that many nursing homes now turn away Medicaid recipients because the reimbursement pays far less than the services actually cost.
Westmount Director Barbara Taggart also said the county should continue its mission to serve all, regardless of ability to pay.
“Westmount residents grew up here, worked here, raised families here,” she said. “Caring for them is a moral issue.”
She also noted that 28 percent of Westmount’s patients were private-pay, which historically bolstered the home’s finances. County officials said this percentage was far higher than most municipally operated nursing homes across the state.
Supporting the initiative, Horicon Supervisor Ralph Bentley noted that shutting Westmount down would continue to cost the taxpayers anyway, as the county would be required to pay the Medicaid costs of the infirm elderly cared for elsewhere.
Dusek predicted that private firms would consider operating Westmount as an attractive proposition, due to its proximity to the Northway — which would be convenient for private-pay Capital Region families visiting their loved ones, and because it has a cogeneration plant on site that can provide heat and electricity inexpensively for the nursing home. He also noted the ample acreage available surrounding the home, the adjacent municipal water and sewer services, as well as the skilled existing staff.
Dusek’s plan includes hiring a professional marketing firm to assist with drafting the request for proposals.
Neighboring Essex County and Washington County have recently taken action to privatize their nursing homes. Essex County’s facility, Horace Nye Nursing Home, has been operating at a substantial loss, and Washington County’s Pleasant Valley Home has also been operating at a loss as well as being cited for various clinical violations.
Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Dan Stec said he supported the initiative to solicit proposals from private companies to operate Westmount, via either lease or purchase.
“This is a very prudent exercise for us to undertake,” he said. “And it costs us nearly nothing.”