County proposes new LDC to sell Valley View

Sept. 29 public hearing scheduled: Path opens to countywide referendum on whether to sell nursing home

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  • From left: Legislators Michael Amo of Central Valley, John Vero of Chester, Paul Ruskiewicz of Pine Island, and Melissa Bonacic of New Hampton (Photo by Edie Johnson)

  • County Executive Steve Neuhaus interrupts Legislator Myrna Kemnitz (D-Monroe) with an objection when she asks casino bidders for contributions toward Valley View nursing home. (Photo by Edie Johnson)

"I have never committed to a vote beforehand, though I might say how I am leaning. Obviously I'm not going to go along with having an illegal LDC. That is how I am leaning."
Jeffrey Berkman, Democratic Caucus leader

By Edie Johnson

— The ongoing struggle over the fate of Valley View nursing home reached a new level of conflict this week, when some officials proposed forming a new Local Development Corporation (LDC) to sell the county-owned facility to a private buyer.

The Orange County Legislature has scheduled a public hearing on the new LDC proposal for 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 29, the Emergency Services Building Auditorium, 22 Wells Farm Road, Goshen, to consider the transfer of Valley View to the Orange Valley View Development Corporation. The vote on the LDC by the full legislature will be held Oct. 2.

In a new development that brings hope to Valley View supporters, a path is being cleared to allow all county voters to have a say about whether the nursing home should stay in county hands.

The first LDC was pronounced a nullity by state supreme court because the legislature did not have the two-thirds supermajority vote required for the task. The scheduling of a second public hearing and a second vote gave rise to rampant speculation that the 14 votes needed — two more than the Republicans had in April — had somehow been secured behind the scenes.

The April vote split largely along party lines. Democrat Curlie Dillard of Newburgh joined Republicans in voting to transfer the home to an LDC. Republican Michael Anagnostakis, chair of the legislature's Health and Mental Health Committee, which oversees Valley View, voted with Democrats against the transfer.

Dems: Rumors spread to split party

The four legislators at a Democratic Caucus meeting this week insisted that the opposition was spreading the rumors to splinter the party. They said they were keeping an open mind. And because conditions can change from day to day, they said, they would never commit to any vote until the time came.

"I have never committed to a vote beforehand, though I might say how I am leaning," said Democratic Caucus leader Jeffrey Berkman. "Obviously I'm not going to go along with having an illegal LDC. That is how I am leaning."

When Supreme Court Judge Elaine Slobod made her ruling in June, she did not address a second legal issue: whether the county department known as Valley View could be dissolved without a law, which could be subject to a permissive referendum. That means anyone in the county may gather signatures and file a petition to have all registered voters in Orange County weigh in on the proposal.

The county appealed the supreme court decision in June, but the appeal was not complete.

Legislative attorney Antoinette Reed said the resolution prepared by County Attorney Langdon Chapman was perfectly legal. But warnings came from both sides of the aisle, and from civil rights attorney Michael Sussman of Chester, who challenged the April vote. They said a new vote, if done as a resolution, would be illegal and would certainly be challenged in court, even if 14 legislators wanted the transfer. The county department known as Valley View would be altered, if not completely eliminated, they say, which makes passing a law rather than just a resolution necessary.

Whether by resolution or by law, the vote would still require a supermajority.

The county's position is that the department known as Valley View is not being abolished because its administrator, Laurence LaDue, will have new responsibilities to oversee the welfare of the county's elderly residents.

Sussman said LaDue would have absolutely no authority to follow nursing home residents who live in a private facility.

Sussman said the law's purpose is to protect democracy by putting decisions that will have a significant impact on people's lives in the hands of those people.

Both Sussman and Anagnostakis pointed to the county charter, which says that eliminating or substantially altering a department must be done by law rather than resolution.

Legislators on the Health and Mental Health Committee this week agreed. They asked that the draft resolution be rewritten as a law and posted in newspapers.

'You're not going to like it'

Legislative Chair Steven Brescia said it will take too long to pass as a law since the budget must be done by the end of next month. The county has focused almost exclusively on cutting Valley View out of the county budget in order to close what the county executive's office says is a $60 million budget hole.

"You're not going to like it," Brescia said. "There will probably be a lot of layoffs."

Chris Eachus (D-New Windsor), countered: "We don't know that. We haven't even seen the budget."

Anagnostakis asked Brescia pointedly: "Where else have they looked for savings?"

Brescia responded: "They are working on it, believe me."

Valley View employees sat in the back of the room holding "Save Valley View" signs. If the facility is sold, they said, many of their positions will likely be replaced by those willing to work for minimum wage. They said services for Valley View's residents, many of them quite frail, will be disrupted. These vulnerable residents should not have to pay for the excesses of other departments, they said.

Legislators who support private ownership said many other counties, particularly Rockland and Ulster, have turned their facilities over to private owners who claim they can run them more economically. But several of those facilities have had difficulty maintaining staffing levels at lower pay. In its annual ratings of hospital and nursing facility ratings, U.S. News and World Report gave poor ratings to some privately owned facilities in Orange County, including one owned by one of the four current bidders for Valley View.

Legislator Michael Amo of Central Valley, a member of the Independence Party and a retired health services administrator for the New York State Office of Mental Health, insists that with managed care coming, it will be difficult enough for experts to handle increasing numbers of elderly people in need of care.

"I don't think it's a business we should be in when 80 percent are now in private hands," he said. "So if someone wants to take the problem off our hands..."

Anagnostakis responded, "We don't know what is coming, but we do know how Valley View is doing now, and how it is improving."

LaDue, the Valley View Administrator, and director of finance Donna Strecker reported a $2.5 million increase in revenue so far this year, plus $962,000 additional savings in the early retirement incentive program, with another month yet to go. Revenue improved in Medicare payments, case mix (more rehab and private pay), occupancy holding at 94.5 percent, and a better staffing program.

"So now it's looking like it could cost us more to sell than to keep it," Anagnostakis said.

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