Supporters muster Valley View defense
Skepticism abounds about the rush to sell, and the numbers used to make the argument
A long interest in privatization
Privatizing nursing homes has long been an interest of some members of the Orange County GOP.
As early as 2006, William DeProspo, chair of the Orange County Republican Committee, and John Chobor, owner of Orange Administrative Services (OAS) — which managed Valley View until the legislature’s investigative committee found it had been running it into the ground — went to Essex County to tell officials about the advantages of privatizing nursing homes.
OAS got nearly $700,000 a year for managing Valley View, and according to the terms of its agreement with the county, would be offered the chance to buy Valley View before any other buyer.
William Pascocello, who managed the nursing home for OAS, is the uncle of Dain Pascocello, who now works as Neuhaus' spokesperson.
In 2013 Laurence LaDue took over as administrator at a salary of $130,000, a fraction of what OAS received. During LaDue’s tenure, costs at the home were cut in half.
The former county executive, Edward Diana, was so intent on selling the nursing home that the legislature had to beat back his efforts in court, which agreed the legislature had the right to fund the home.
By Edie Johnson
GOSHEN — A gathering of Valley View Nursing Home supporters piled into Michael Sussman’s Goshen law office this week to mobilize against the county executive’s fast-moving effort to sell the nursing home.
Sussman, who called the meeting as head of the Orange County Democratic Alliance, says legislators are about evenly divided on whether to hand the home over to a Local Development Corporation (LDC), which would proceed to sell it, because they have been told the alternative is firing large numbers of county employees. About three or four legislators appear to be sitting on the fence, he said.
A public hearing on forming an LDC to sell Valley View will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. on Friday, April 4, at the Emergency Services Building, 22 Wells Farm Road in Goshen. The legislature will vote on the matter on Wednesday, April 9.
Valley View residents want to make sure legislators understand their vote will be about their home, he said. Many have given up the titles to their own homes to live under the watchful care of the county, he said, and any change of ownership or leadership will traumatize this vulnerable population.
Valley View serves the frailest and poorest of the county’s elderly population. A large proportion of its residents are on Medicaid, or suffer from dementia or Alzheimers Disease. Many of the residents at Valley View are disabled veterans.
The office of County Executive Steve Neuhaus told legislators last week that transferring Valley View to an LDC will require a simple majority of 11 votes. But Sussman contests that, saying a supermajority of 14 votes is needed.
Sussman began the meeting handing out copies of a leaflet that Neuhaus passed around to senior citizens during the last weeks of his campaign last year, promising not only to keep the facility “open” but also to support the new management at Valley View.
After repeated assurances in recent weeks that he would keep the nursing home open, Neuhaus abruptly reversed course after Moody’s bond rating service downgraded the county from an Aaa rating to a Aa2 — still an excellent grade that does not affect the county’s ability to borrow at a prime rate. But Moody’s noted that the county was spending its surplus and relying too much on sales tax revenue, which fluctuates with the economy. Neuhaus, like his predecessor, Edward Diana, has focused almost exclusively on shedding Valley View as a way to keep the county in good financial shape.
But the nursing home’s supporters are skeptical. “If Neuhaus can’t find any other areas to save money other than Valley View and letting employees go, then he has not done his due diligence,” said a Valley View supporter at the meeting.
Valley View supporters say they are mystified that the nursing home is on the block, when it’s the only county department to have significantly cut its spending over the past year.
“The idea that saving $3 million to $4 million that Valley View contributes to the county debt would have a significant impact on what is touted to be a $60 million deficit is ridiculous,” Sussman said. “Moody’s would call it laughable.”
Sussman said the rush to hand the nursing home over to an LDC is a clever political tactic because it puts the opposition at a huge disadvantage, both in collecting information to contest the county executive’s figures and in mobilizing those with a stake in the nursing home.
Many of the county jobs Neuhaus warned would be lost are already unfilled with no plans to fill them.
County-owned land property obtained through foreclosure accounts for a chunk of the deficit, along with tax breaks for new businesses. But by far, most of the deficit was run up by big construction projects like the Emergency Services Center, the jail, and SUNY Orange.
The 2014 budget has already been completed. Legislators have months to plan savings in other areas of the budget for years to come.
The advocates say they will be busy this week making phone calls, sending e-mails, enjoining the help of senior citizens who counted on Neuhaus’ promise to keep the home open. They will work toward forcing a permissive referendum, finding speakers for next week’s public hearing, and researching the fate of other nursing facilities that have been turned over to LDC groups for sale.
Valley View employees, who have committed to marathon negotiating sessions this week, say they don’t understand why government representatives who get excellent salaries and pension benefits resent them for getting the same. They say they deserve better for the “five-star” quality of care they give residents.
Sparrow Tobin, president of the Hudson-Catskill Central Labor Council, wrote in a letter to legislators: “I am not alone in being more than a little skeptical of how the county goes from a triple A bond rating with a budget surplus to a projected 60 million dollar deficit, coupled with the fact that many department heads and executives were given large raises at the same time our county’s largest bargaining unit is without a contract. There is no greater way to sabotage contract negotiations than giving your executives huge raises and then turning around and asking the rank and file to take pay cuts and freezes.”
Please see related stories:
"Neuhaus moves fast toward Valley View sale": http://bit.ly/NZ689k
"Neuhaus vows to keep Valley View open": http://bit.ly/1j9hlQW
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