MAYVILLE – “Our mission is to help people.” That was the reassuring message delivered by the company that wants to purchase the Chautauqua County Home for $16 million when it met with the Chautauqua County Legislature on Wednesday.
During a special work session, legislators spent nearly an hour-and-a-half questioning VestraCare vice president Edward Farbenblum and administrator Shannon Cayea-Delker to learn more about their operation and what the future holds for the skilled nursing facility in Dunkirk, should a purchase take place.
“It’s about expanding program lines and its about that more difficult, more acute resident who needs a more hands-on, higher skill level of care,” Farbenblum said. “We believe that this facility, for a whole bunch of demographic reasons and physical plant reasons, is ripe to be converted into that facility – the vision that we are planning.”
During the Q & A with lawmakers, legislator Fred Larson (D-Jamestown) asked specifically about Vestracares benefits for employees. Cayea-Delker and Farbenblum both confirmed that the company’s contribution for both retirement and healthcare would be significantly less than what the county is paying. Larson said that alone would result in an operating budget that is $1.5 million less than what the county is currently paying, adding that it’s no mystery how VestraCare could turn a profit on the home, even though the county can not.
“We hand the keys to you… and you’re a million-and-a-half to the good before you change anything else,” Larson explained. “So its no mystery to me and it’s no mystery to the employees at the home, it’s not a mystery to the people that maybe feel badly about the county selling this. How could you do something that we can’t do? There’s two simple answers.”
Farbenblum also said that any employee that currently works at the facility would be given the opportunity to continue working there, following a screening process that includes a background check and drug testing.
As for the care of the 218 residents in the home, which has been one of the main concern for many in the north county, Cayea-Delker assured the legislature and county residents that all residents would receive the same level of care, if not greater because VestraCare plans to increase staffing in some areas. She also said that any of the indigent residents currently living in the facility would also still have a home there, once a sale went through – regardless of their financial situation.
“I am a social worker, by background, and I am a ‘bleading heart.’ In no way, shape or form do we intend to evict any resident because [they are indigent]. We will assist them in finding a payer source.”
Legislators also questioned the timeline of when VestraCare would begin expanding operations, with both Farbenblum and Cayea-Delker saying that new services could begin within a year or two after they purchase the home.
The most contentious portion of the Q&A was between legislator Terry Niebel (R-Dunkrik) and Farbenblum. Niebel feels that the $16million offer by VestraCare is far below what it is actually worth, saying the number could actually be twice the asking price. However, Farbenblum countered by saying that the market dictates the price and based on his company’s analysis, $16 million was the number they felt most comfortable in offering, given the investments they plan to make in the future along with the taxes they’ll be paying on the property if it were to be privatized.
The selling of the county home has been a contentious issue with lawmakers since it was first proposed by former County Executive Greg Edwards in 2011. Since then the county has spent money on a county home feasibility study by the Rochester, NY firm, Center for Governmental Research. The issue of selling the home also went before the legislature three times in 2013, although all three efforts – including one to VestraCare – were unsuccessful. Proponents say selling the home will remove unnecessary costs in county government, while opponents of the sale say privatization will reduce the quality of care for the resident at the Dunkirk-based facility.
The next vote on the sale of the County Home will take place Feb. 26 at 6:30 in the legislative chambers in Mayville. It will be open to the public and any resident or group wishing to speak out on the matter will be allowed to do so at the beginning of the meeting.