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Privatizing aged care is controversial, as counties feel the financial pinch

The Civil Service Employees Association, or CSEA, is currently involved in several law suits across New York state with counties, including Onondaga County, that are trying to get out of the business of running nursing homes. Now Ontario County may now face legal action from the union over its decision to put its county-run nursing home on the market.

The union has filed cases in counties including Steuben, Chautauqua, and Saratoga. They maintain that municipalities can’t sell assets that serve an essential public need, and have indicated that the actions of Ontario County may warrant a legal response.

“This is something that is being done across the state, and it’s unconscionable,” says Western region president for the CSEA, Flo Tripi.

“We are battling and we will probably be taking some legal action,” Tripi says.

Tripi says they’re concerned that the 115 union members working in the facility will lose their jobs under a private owner, and that the level of care for the nearly 100 residents of the home won’t be upheld.

She says all current employees would have an opportunity to apply for jobs under a new owner, but at the end of the day it would be up to the private employer to pick who they want.

“They’ll offer the jobs to who they want to, and many of our people will be left in the lurch on that.”

Expensive business

Charles Evangelista is one of the Ontario County board of supervisors who supports the sale of the nursing facility.

He says it’s been a tough decision to make, but it comes down to thinking about the tax payers.

“The projected amount of money that the county would need to subsidize the facility would increase $4-5 million each year in the next couple of years,” Evangelista says.

“While it’s a difficult decision, it’s a necessary decision.”

Changes to the reimbursements available from Medicare and Medicaid are driving the sale of many Government-owned nursing homes now facing significant shortfalls in operating revenue.

The result of the growing financial burden is that many counties want to get out of the aged care business altogether.

“We don’t want to be in the business, but at the same time we understand that we have a commitment to the individuals residing there.”

Evangelista says the home won’t just go to the highest bidder, and still may not sell at all. The county’s conditions for the sale include an agreement that the facility will remain a nursing home for at least ten years after it’s sold, and Evangelista says private buyers may not go for that.

Doubts about privatization

But, the CSEA’s Flo Tripi says the conditions the county has set forth don’t reassure her.

“It’s been our experience across the state, look at Fulton County, look at Delaware County, look at some of the counties that it’s happened to. We know darn well once someone comes in there who is a private person, they are interested in a profit margin. They’re not interested in taking people who have inability to pay, who are not really able to manage on their own,” she said.

Tripi concedes that running nursing homes can become a financial burden, but she says there’s no guarantee that a private owner will provide a high level of care to residents from all sectors of the population, and that’s not a responsibility the county should be shirking in the first place.

“It’s our opinion that it is the government’s responsibility, or the county’s responsibility, to take and make sure that a certain element of their population is cared for.”

Charles Evangelista of the Ontario County board of supervisors says the county has received no bids for the nursing facility as yet. He says selling the home to a private investor is not the only course of action, but the county believes it is the best avenue at this time.

For more from the Innovation Trail, visit their website.

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between six upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.

WXXI/Finger Lakes Reporter for the Innovation Trail