Legislature OKs nursing home transfer
Party-line vote passes Valley View to unregulated private entity for possible sale
Elderly Valley View residents came out in wheelchairs to join hundreds of others in an urgent plea to protect their nursing home. (Photo by Edie Johnson)
From left: John Vero (R-Chester), James M. Kulisek (D-Newburgh), and Myrna Kemnitz (D-Monroe).
From left: Stephen Brescia (R-Montgomery), Chairman of the Legislature; Antoinette Reed, Legislative Attorney; and Jeffrey Berkman (D-Middletown). (Photo by Ginny Privitar)
Michael Amo (I-Central Valley), Independence Party Leader; and Jean Ramppen, legislative clerk. (Photo by Ginny Privitar)
HOW THEY VOTED
Votes for transfer:
L. Stephen Brescia (R-Montgomery), Chairman of the Legislature
Melissa Bonacic (R-New Hampton), Legislative Majority Leader
Michael Amo (I-Central Valley), Independence Party Leader
Paul Ruszkiewicz (R-Pine Island)
Curlie W. Dillard (D-Newburgh)
Katie Bonelli (R-Blooming Grove)
Barry Cheney (R-Warwick)
John S. Vero (R-Chester)
Kevin W. Hines (R-Cornwall)
Dennis W. Simmons (R-Port Jervis)
James DiSalvo (R-Highland Falls)
Leigh J. Benton (R-Newburgh)
Votes against transfer:
Jeffrey Berkman (D-Middletown), Legislative Minority Leader
Michael Anagnostakis (R-Newburgh)
Christopher W. Eachus (D-New Windsor)
Myrna Kemnitz (D-Monroe)
Michael D. Paduch (D-Middletown)
Roseanne Sullivan (D-Circleville)
Matthew A. Turnbull (D-Hamptonburgh)
Shannon Wong (D-Goshen)
James M. Kulisek (D-Newburgh)
By Edie Johnson
GOSHEN — Valley View nursing home is on its way out of county hands, with the legislature's decision Wednesday night to pass the county-owned nursing home off to a Local Development Corporation.
LDCs are private entities without oversight that the state comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, says are subject to "waste, fraud and abuse." Still, the new county executive, Steve Neuhaus, who campaigned on working with the new administration to keep the home open, swiftly reversed course after he was elected and accomplished what his predecessor, Edward Diana, was unable to do in two years of battles with the legislature and the courts. A public hearing on Friday night, attended by more than 600 supporters of the nursing home, was not enough to sway the legislature to their side. Nor did concessions by the labor union help, or the fact that the nursing home's expenses were reduced by millions of dollars over the past year under its new administration, which is seeking savings of millions more (please see related articles).
Massive turnout supports Valley View
GOSHEN — The county legislature presided over a five-hour public hearing on April 4 that brought out more than 600 Valley View supporters who want the nursing home kept in county hands.
About 30 Valley View nursing home residents attended in wheelchairs. Many town supervisors and council members gave their support, along with veterans, Valley View workers past and present, and many citizens whose relatives had stayed at Valley View or were still residents.
Descendants of the family that originally deeded the property to the county for the benefit of Orange County came up from Point Pleasant, N.J., to object to the LDC transfer. They said their lawyer will review the deed and, if the county persists with its transfer plans, take legal action to have the land revert back to the family.
Attorney Michael Sussman of Chester said the proposed transfer to an LDC would accomplish nothing except cause litigation (his full comments are provided separately on page 12).
There was thunderous applause and frequent cheering, along with expressions of anger. The crowd urged legislators to find other ways to cut expenses and blasted Steve Neuhaus, the county executive, for going back on his campaign promise. They reminded the legislature that they’d already voted to fund and support Valley View for the year.
“I never thought I’d say this, but I’d rather have Eddie Diana,” said one man about Neuhaus, who during his campaign last fall promised to keep Valley View open by working with the new administrator, Laurence LaDue. “At least he was a straight shooter, not this kind of squirrely shot from around a corner.”
Several people who had signed up to talk gave their time to particularly eloquent speakers. One of them was George Lyons of Goshen, who referred to the campaign flyer Neuhaus distributed to senior citizens with his bulleted plan to preserve Valley View.
“Do you know who would be county executive if there had been a fourth bullet on that campaign flyer that said ‘Turn over Valley View to an LDC’?” said Lyons. “Roxanne Donnery, that’s who.”
Neuhaus did not appear to be in attendance at the hearing.
A woman from Newburgh told legislators: “You may not answer to me, you may not answer to these people, but you will answer to almighty God!”
At that moment, a giant projection screen behind the legislators scrolled slowly down, seemingly of its own accord, prompting Legislator Steve Brescia to laugh and say: “I think you might be making me a believer.”
In the end, though, Brescia decided to take his chances with the Almighty. He voted along with his fellow Republicans to transfer the home.
Neuhaus insists that the nursing home will stay open. But his critics say the county will not be able to control the facility if someone else owns it.
Executive's office insists on 'downer'
GOSHEN — Legislator Mike Anagnostakis and his Health and Mental Health Committee met the day before the legislature decided to transfer Valley View to go over Valley View's finances.
The committee explained how the nursing home cut expenses by millions over the past year and set out plans for future fiscal improvements.
Several committee members objected to the bulleted handout presented by the home's administrator, Laurence LaDue. He was summoned to the county executive's office for five hours that day, re-emerging with a new report in which every bulleted improvement was now followed by possible negative outcomes.
"I am insulted," said Legislator Chris Eachus, a Democrat. "What do they think we are, stupid?"
Fellow Democrat Myrna Kemnitz echoed his disappointment.
"Why do they have to turn (the presentation of improvements) into a downer?" she asked.
All legislators, on both sides of the aisle, applauded LaDue and Legislator Mike Anagnostakis, chair of the committee that oversees Valley View, on for their achievement in bringing costs down.
"You know, we would not even be in this predicament if you were not so darn good at what you do," Eachus said.
Kemnitz asked whether the hefty separation fee of two months' salary paid to the previous administrator, Bill Pascocello of Orange Administrative Services (OAS), who was fired under allegations of mismanagement, had been taken from the general Valley View fund. LaDue replied that it had.
Pascocello is a business partner of OAS owner John Chobar, who had been given the first right to buy Valley View if the county ever put it up for sale. Legislative investigators in 2012 accused OAS of running the nursing home into the ground to force a sale.
OAS was allocated $550,000 in the budget before Diana's decision to terminate their services. LaDue was hired in January 2013 at an annual salary of $130,000.
Valley View nursing home has long been a beloved institution in Orange County. Its supporters say its affordability allows seniors and the disabled to get high-quality care right in their own communities. Jim Bruno of the Veterans Coalition of Orange County said Valley View is "the only thing available to (veterans) other than Montrose. Having it there is very beneficial for the families."
The LDC proposal passed 12-9, largely along party lines, with Republicans favoring the transfer (see sidebar for how legislators voted). The resolution allows only the sale of the 24 acres upon which the nursing home sits. The disposition of an additional 140 acres will stay with the legislature.
Neuhaus campaigned against Diana's record but now echoes what Diana had been saying for years — that Valley View is an unsustainable drain on the county's finances. He seized upon a slight drop in the Moody's bond rating to bolster his case.
Rules set for going forward
Another five-hour marathon began Wednesday with the Rules Committee. Legislator Jeffrey Berkman, Democratic Caucus leader, said he wanted to ensure that all LDC meetings would follow the Open Meetings Law, and that any bylaw changes would need a quorum of five and approval by the full legislature.
Barry Cheney, Republican of Tuxedo, asked that no final sale be made until the end of the year, to give the legislature time to analyze the home's finances and save workers' jobs.
Several legislators supporting the transfer promised that the process would be subject to a state audit.
Legislators also asked for a stipulation that the home revert to county hands if the LDC did not succeed in selling the facility within a limited amount of time.
Decision after marathon session
The full legislature debated the transfer until about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Members of the public again begged lawmakers to keep the home in county hands.
Mike Anagnostakis, chair of the committee that oversees Valley View, is the sole Republican opposing the transfer. He said the county's charter prohibits the abolishment of a county department, like Valley View, by resolution only. Departments can be abolished only by law, he said, and can be put to a public referendum.
Comptroller DiNapoli says that LDCs should be formed only as an economic tool for business, not as a way for government to avoid its responsibility to the people.
Pro-LDC Legislator Michael Amo said "managed care" is coming and that no one knows how the reimbursement system will work, except that private companies will set fees. The Republican Caucus leader, Melissa Bonacic, said she could not see how quality of care could be balanced with sound finances if the home remained in county hands.
Attorney Michael Sussman, who is leading a campaign to save the home, warned, "I promise you'll be back in court next week if you pass this."
Legislator Matt Turnbull of Hamptonburgh, who opposes the transfer, added: "You may think that voters will forget about this in a thousand days, but I am a child of the 60s and I know a revolution coming when I see one."
Can Chester live within its means?
Can Chester live within its means?