Chautauqua County Home employees have spent years doing exemplary work in an oft-thankless job.
It is quite understandable, then, that continued proposals to sell the Chautauqua County Home can feel like a slap in the face. It's difficult for them to see such fundamental changes to an organization in which someone has invested their blood, sweat and tears. Their work and sacrifices should be kept in mind as Chautauqua County legislators review a second offer from VestraCare to purchase the home. At the same time, County Home employees and their supporters must also realize the home is failing in spite of their best efforts, not because of them.
Late last week, CSEA officials met with Horrigan to ask that the CSEA be allowed to work out an agreement with the county before any decisions are made about the home's future. That meeting led to a petition signed by 170 of the home's 280 employees stating those 170 employees want to remain county employees. The employees agree to wage and benefit concessions that should be part of discussions relating to the sale of the County Home. If CSEA Unit 6300 doesn't pursue those concessions, the employees say they will call for a decertification election to form a separate bargaining unit.
A sale of the Chautauqua County Home is a scary proposition for home employees given the frightening words thrown around for the past few years. Home employees should think about one simple fact before rushing to torpedo the county's sale of the home to VestraCare. Without IGT funding - and there is none included in the 2014 county budget - the Chautauqua County Home will sink. The home has a roughly $3.5 million surplus right now that will disappear in about a year if the county isn't providing IGT funding.
Edward Farbenblum, VestraCare executive vice president, on Wednesday reiterated his desire to work with the home's employees. Those who can pass background checks will likely continue to work at the home, and Shannon Cayea-Delker, a VestraCare administrator, told county legislators VestraCare will likely have to hire additional workers because the County Home is understaffed.
The sale offer by VestraCare is a lifeline to save the home and remove a more than $1 million burden each year from the backs of county taxpayers. VestraCare plans to spend $1 million on improvements at the home if the purchase is approved, and its status in the private sector opens up areas of care unavailable to the county that will help VestraCare operate the home profitably without the life raft of taxpayer-backed IGT money. As a county-owned facility, the Chautauqua County Home is limited to skilled nursing care - one of the more costly types of nursing home care - and can't offer assisted living or adult living options, which are areas that help for-profit homes increase profitability. Unlike their for-profit brethren, county-owned nursing homes can't move people into skilled nursing for a short time and then move them back into less costly areas of care.
There are deep emotions involved in any discussion of the County Home. The Chautauqua County Legislature's decision, on the other hand, should be based on fact and logic. The facts are that without IGT funding, the home loses money each and every year with little chance of closing the gap because, as a county-owned facility, it is simply legally unable to have a business structure that is profitable due to the money-making services it is legally not allowed to offer.
The home's employees, and the Chautauqua County Legislature, should grab the lifeline thrown to them by VestraCare and hold on as tightly as they can.