We can keep Valley View open

By Steve Neuhaus, Orange County Executive

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The future of Valley View Nursing Home is an important issue to all county residents, seniors, staff, and taxpayers. In the weeks since my State of the County address, I have heard from all these groups. Their input has been valuable as the county legislature now decides a path forward for this 360-bed facility.

As part of my commitment to a transparent and open dialogue on Valley View among our legislators and the public, I am presenting the facts prior to the April 4 public hearing on a proposed Local Development Corporation management board and the subsequent April 9 vote to decide on the proposal.

In my State of the County Address, I presented a number of options to the county legislature that would help to close our $60 million budget gap in 2015. One of these involves transferring Valley View’s operations to a Local Development Corporation, or LDC. This is not about closing the nursing home — something which I do not support. This is about taking the politics out of Valley View’s management, period. Consider the different paths taken by Ulster and Suffolk counties. In Ulster County, after day-to-day management responsibilities were transferred to an LDC, at least $3.5 million was invested in patient care and capital improvements at Golden Hill Health Care Facility. Most importantly, according to Ulster County Executive Michael Hein, a Democrat, not one patient was displaced as a result of the sale, and access to high-quality care continued uninterrupted. The Kingston Daily Freeman newspaper has quoted Ken Hyatt, the head of Golden Hill’s Residents’ Council, as noting that, rather than reducing care and service quality, food, staffing, and cleanliness of the building have manifestly improved. “I think the owners — and I’ve had the opportunity to talk with them on several occasions — are firmly committed to making this place better both physically and otherwise,” said Hyatt.

An LDC is not a path to closure. Transferring management to a Local Development Corporation could keep it publicly run, like in Lewis County, or privately administrated.

Either way, however, a Local Development Corporation is a means to keep a nursing home open and caring for patients, as it has in the case of Ulster County.

Furthermore, in the event that the legislature votes for an LDC transfer, all employees are required to be considered in the continued successful operations of the nursing home.

Compare this to Suffolk County, where the county legislature bickered and politicked and the nursing home there closed. County government, nursing home staff, and the elderly suffered as a result of inaction. This is not the outcome residents and staff at Valley View deserve.

Taxpayers have been asked to subsidize Valley View by more than $10 million per year. In 2013 alone, according to budget figures, the cost to county taxpayers was $15.7 million. This has been done by utilizing the county’s savings account, known as the fund balance. Unfortunately, as I laid out in my State of the County address, the fund balance has now dried up and this budgeting approach is no longer viable. I have presented budget alternatives to the legislature, including the prospect of massive new layoffs and staggering tax increases; now it is up to them to act.

Whatever they decide, however, will not be a silver-bullet solution. But it will have brought greater clarity to our budget picture and the county’s $60 million deficit. Our residents, already squeezed by a rocky recovery from the Great Recession, can’t afford the prospect of higher taxes and hundreds of additional layoffs. That’s not what I want as your county executive either.

A misinformation campaign has also spread false rumors about my intentions for Valley View.

They go so far as to suggest that I have broken promises. Again, let’s look at the facts:

I have already advanced a proposal to make capital improvements to Valley View. These improvements are needed for better patient care.

I have continued efforts to restructure purchasing agreements with other counties to create greater efficiencies.

My administration has been negotiating with Valley View’s union on a new agreement after their previous contract expired. At this writing, no new concessions have been forthcoming from the union, and in fact they are demanding retroactive raises.

I have kept my promise to negotiate with Albany leaders for increased reimbursement rates prior to the state budget’s adoption, but no new funding was available.

And I have said, publicly and on a number of occasions, that bickering and partisanship will not save one patient at Valley View. The responsible solution for its patients and our county’s taxpayers is for the legislature to vote yes or no to transfer the nursing home to an LDC, and move on.

These are the facts. The Ulster model, in which the county legislature publicly votes to transfer the nursing home to an LDC, is the responsible path for Orange County's seniors, nursing home staff, and taxpayers. Unlike Suffolk County, we can keep Valley View open and providing quality care by adopting this successful approach.

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