Congratulations to Chautauqua County for finding a way to get out of the incredibly expensive nursing home business while at the same time ensuring that the home will continue to provide quality service to county residents of all income levels.
As we reported last week, the Chautauqua County Home is running in the red and will deplete all of its savings by the end of this year - putting taxpayers on the hook to cover the entire deficit after that. As you know, property taxpayers have already been subsidizing the home to the tune of around a million dollars a year the past few years.
The entire deficit is a considerable sum. The home is expected to take in only about 79 percent of the amount of money it will need to pay for $19 million of expenses next year. That will leave taxpayers to make up the roughly $3.9 million bill shortfall.
The financial problems are no surprise. They go back several years to when the level of Medicaid payments to the home started to be cut. That is when the home began slipping into the red.
Although the administration there has worked to control costs, cutting expenses by as much as 20 percent is a very heavy lift. As you might expect in a government-owned facility, the public employee union contract covering the nursing home's employees is a significant factor in the operating costs - and it greatly limits the ability to make cost-cutting savings.
Consider, for example, that under the Civil Service Employee Association contract, the county nursing home employees have 40 paid days off a year - and can qualify for up to 50 days off eventually.
Think about that: Having a workforce with eight to 10 weeks of paid time off a year increases your costs from the git-go when you must staff your operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The other kicker is benefits.
Health and retirement benefits for employees add 60 percent on top of their pay. In comparison, non-government nursing home operators in the area pay benefits that total about 20 percent of employees' pay.
After much study and in consultation with experts, County Executive Gregory Edwards and his team have put together a list of terms and conditions under which the county home is being marketed, with permission of the County Legislature, to prospective buyers.
Among those conditions: the facility must continue to be operated as a nursing home for at least 10 years, current residents must be allowed to continue to stay there, qualified workers must be guaranteed continued employment, the home must continue to serve Medicaid patients and county residents must continue to have access to the skilled nursing beds there.
The sale will mean, too, that property owners all across the county will no longer be expected to subsidize the nursing home.
But there are even more benefits than that.
The county is forbidden by the state to operate anything other than full-blown skilled nursing home beds. Under new ownership, the state would allow a more comprehensive continuum of care to be offered at the facility in the north county - assisted living, for example, for those who need help day to day but who do not yet need to be in a skilled nursing home.
As you would expect, we have already seen strong opposition from the union - which we estimate stands to lose in the neighborhood of $160,000 a year in the dues it is getting now from the unionized members of the home's 250 employees, by the way.
And quite understandably, employees at the nursing home are upset at the prospect of change. But the wild rumors about everyone being kicked out of the home if it is sold and county residents not being allowed in there are pure bunk. So is the claim that the county nursing home provides the best care. As we have reported, the county home provides good care, but it is not rated by the state as providing the best care in the county.
Ultimately, the decision on the future of the county home will be made by the County Legislature.
We know it will not be easy to cast a "Yes" vote to sell it if a buyer is found.
But the simple fact remains: If the home is not sold, the multi-million dollar deficit will have to be covered by county taxpayers.
Allowing that to continue just does not make sense.