The Express Newspaper – February 5, 2015

Maplewood employees, others oppose privatization By Harold Wessell


BALLSTON SPA, Nov. 20 - Dorothy Tyler of Saratoga Springs, whose mother Patricia is a resident of Maplewood Manor, was the first of about a dozen speakers before the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, when the Board began the process of finding an acceptable private operator for the facility.

Tyler, a member of the nursing home's Family Council, also spoke of just-formed group of staff and County citizens, named Citizens for a Sustainable Maplewood Manor, " was formed organically to advocate for people being left out of the process – your process...We are willing to assist you, and we would like to be part of the process. Our County has been caring for our elderly, sick and poor for over 200 years. As a community, a county, it is our duty to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. We should not pass it off to the highest bidder." She presented a list of questions and suggestions from the group.

Looking ahead five to ten years, she voiced what proved a theme of nearly all the speakers:  "You can't possibly believe that employees working for lower wages and benefits, in inappropriate staff to patient ratios, can provide the same quality care that our residents now receive."

Nick Berardi, a Maplewood employee who has a number of times addressed the Board of Supervisors, read a letter from members of the residents’ association: "Maplewood's mission has always been to provide quality care for those in need. You cannot get that same quality from a private-run nursing home... whose primary mission is to make money...Providing for these elderly and disabled should not be run as a business." but to provide "a fundamental need of society... There are many county departments that don't make money, and aren't being discussed."

Susan Flowers, an employee, also maintained that private nursing homes equal "lower pay and lower staff, that usually means lower care... We could be the county that says No to getting rid of its county nursing home. There are a lot of people out there that cannot afford private nursing homes, especially these days. We need to stand proud and say to care about our county residents and our elderly who need somewhere to live, to go to so that they can get the help they need.... and take care of our own." She said she prayed that day; they would "give Maplewood Manor one more year – at least one more year, to prove that we can make it."

Employee Steven Mitchell likewise expected that "Privatization would likely mean diminished services and their ability to live a good full life... The responsibilities of a private company would condemn [residents] to fewer activities, .no meals from scratch, and other luxuries that a private company would not allow due to the bottom line. The dollar cannot be the bottom line when we are dealing with these residents." The quick fix of selling may sound fiscally good, he added, "but that doesn't make it the right thing to do. Tough times call for tough decisions. Selling would not be the tough decision, but rather the easy one."

Barbara Thomas called it a "social and moral obligation" to provide that kind of service to county residents. Looking at her tax bill, she estimated that if the 20 percent property tax increase – said to be the only other way to save the home -- would be about "$50 a year per $100,000 – I’m willing to pay that, particularly in the short term; because I think we have been rushed into this decision, by a small committee of the board... And I know that the meetings were not public. The people didn't know what the charge to the consultant was."

Raymond Meyers was the lone speaker of about a dozen to support the privatization process, calling attention to the most identifiable cause of the persistent annual deficit. "I don't understand why the County is reimbursed [for Medicaid services rendered] at, I think it's only a third of the actual cost – I think this a very painful loss of control by local government in state unfunded mandates. It’s hard to believe that it's gone on this long, and impacted so large financially. And nothing brings that home as how people are hurt in this example." However, he felt that unless the County takes a position and figures out a solution to dealing with unfunded state and federal mandates, "What's the next service that we're going to lose in the county, around the corner?"

Prior to the vote, Waterford supervisor John Lawler, as a perspective on the also-perennial impact of unfunded state mandates, pointed out that in the 2013 County budget due for adoption next month, the anticipated property tax of $52,577,684 will go entirely toward paying for $63,837,520 in state mandates – with  $12,259,836 to be found from other sources.

Kathy Garrison, CSEA Capital Region President, calling Nov. 20 a sad day for Saratoga County, claimed that  "The decision to dispense of the property was decided privately by the Republican caucus, behind closed doors, with zero transparency. County residents have been shut out of this process, ignored and disrespected. Your vote today to create an LDC is being done without the consideration of other options, without a public hearing and without any respect for the residents and employees of Maplewood Manor who are expected to sit by quietly while you hand over the keys to their home. She further alleged that LDCs have "great potential for abuse.  Friends and family can be appointed to the board; LDCs are not required to comply with open meetings and Freedom of Information Laws; no disclosure of financial information is required; no requirement that fair market value is paid for property (in this case, Maplewood Manor is valued at 13 million)."

She warned members who were behind the plan, or are going along with it, "Let me assure you that your ability to get re-elected will be impacted by this vote. Voters will remember; and next year when you are up for re-election, CSEA will be happy to remind them of your deception and your vote today."

During the voting, Moreau Supervisor Preston Jenkins, concerned that the County would still be borrowing money from the LDC, which could impact taxpayers for the next three years if the sale as proposed doesn't occur at some point, stated he was "not comfortable" with that.

Ballston Supervisor Patricia Southworth said she had  "serious questions about quality of life issues that will occur, I'm sure,” if Maplewood is privatized -- and should the facility end up

Closing in the future.  She hoped that if the LDC goes forward, the Board would keep looking at alternative plans.

Saratoga Springs Supervisor Joanne Yepsen said she "can't add more" to what speakers had said. "This has been an issue that has been near and dear to so many of them, personal and financial as well." She added that "some good concrete ideas" came up, and she hoped they would be more seriously looked at going forward, and that other good ideas are brought forward.

Milton Supervisor Daniel Lewza also expressed his concern that after the  $6 million the County will be getting from the LDC, in the 2014 budget, even if they sell the property in January, the County will still be responsible for probably the next 16 months.  "... Are we going to have to borrow again? I think what we need to do is go back, take a look at things, ... and tighten up a flat cut, across the board, in each department, including Maplewood Manor, and see where they can get to making up the $6 million." For conservatives, he said, "I don't think that taxpayers should be forced to support another layer of shadow government."

Northumberland Town Supervisor Willard "Bill" Peck said he went into the process with an open mind about 18 months ago, and originally doubted need for an LDC. "The more I looked at it, the more I'm dealing with it, the LDC was really a way to finance an annual operations until we can transition to a private entity." He said he offered up his services to be on its board, "so it could be done in a proper way that transitions a safe environment for out citizens there, our seniors."

Peck took issue with some of the comments, pointing out that in fact all meetings will be subject to the Open Meetings Law  "just as if they were government” As for claims of  "friends and family getting high paid wages to come to work for the LDC... The LDC is going to be made up of five supervisors and two other people as citizens – That’s the LDC. We aren't being paid for it." He said his own motivation to be on the board was "as a public service to this County, to make sure that we do this in a proper fashion moving forward because – I think everybody knows, there is a great need for a nursing home here." The concern he has, however, is about long-term viability; "and in the hands of the County that is not sustainable. We probably should have taken and done this ten years ago; we let it go too far."

Voting against the proposal were Jenkins, Mary Ann Johnson, Lewza, Southworth and Yepsen.

Richardson and Jean Raymond of Edinburg did not attend.

Members of the LDC board will be Chairman of the Board of Supervisors Thomas Wood III; Supervisors Ed Kinowski of Stillwater, Thomas Richardson of Mechanicville, and Arthur Wright of Hadley; and from the general public former longtime Public Health Nursing director Helen Endres, and former Malta Supervisor David Meager.

(Local supervisor comment is anticipated when this is repeated in next Thursday's paper.)