MAYVILLE – It was a long and at times confrontational special meeting of the Chautauqua County Legislature last night in Mayville as lawmakers met with the latest prospective buyers of the Chautauqua County Home.
Four representatives of VestraCare – including co-owner Edward Farbenblum – sat before the legislature and answered more than two dozen questions regarding their interest in buy the skilled nursing facility in Dunkirk at a cost of $16.5 million.
Lawmakers were especially interested in what VestraCare’s immediate and long-term plans would be for the home, including what services they would offer and what type of staffing they would provide for patients in their care. Officials with VestraCare explained that they would like to eventually expand services that would include a medical daycare facility as well as a provide homecare services.
Administrator Jaqueline Syliva – who is the head of VestraCare’s Golden Hill skilled nursing facility in Ulster County, NY – said that they would most like expand the number of nurses they have on staff at the facility. And both Sylvia and Farbenblum explained the company’s hiring practices, saying they would interview all current staff of the county home and work toward hiring those individuals, prior to going out and seeking other candidates. They also said wages would be similar to what is currently being offered, but could not make any guarantee that they could match the current benefits.
Oct. 30 decision deadline too soon?
One of the main issues of concern that was brought up by some lawmakers was the timeline given for the legislature to act on the sale. Under the submitted contract, VestraCare is requesting the county act on the contract by Oct. 30.
However, legislators Billy Coughlin (D-Fredonia), Bob Whitney (D-Jamestown) and Chuck Nazarro (D-Jamestown) questioned the date, saying they felt more time would be needed.
Coughlin was especially confrontational with the buyers, questioning their past history with other facilities and alleging they did not have strong oversight with some companies they subcontracted for certain services. He also said he wanted more time to investigate VestraCare.
“This is what I’ve been able to come up with in nine days, just nine days,” Coughlin said, pointing to his notes on the company. “This is very difficult for me. I think we need an extension, for our due diligence, to maybe get an answer to some of these things. Real answers.”
Nazarro was also against the deadline, but for a different reason. He felt that it was poor timing, considering a local election was just around the corner and it may led to some legislators voting against the sale.
“I have been on record that I want to see the home privatized to the best buyer,” Nazarro said. “I think that’s a trend your going to see for all the reasons stated. However, I think that putting that October 30 date on there is going to jeopardize the entire process.”
Despite Nazarro’s and Coughlin’s concern with the Oct. 30 deadline, other lawmakers felt that it wasn’t a major issue. Vince Horrigan (R-Bemus Point), Larry Barmore (R-Gerry) and Keith Ahlstrom (D-Dunkirk) all pointed out that lawmakers actually had since the end of August to research the buyers, since that was when they were first introduced to lawmakers.
In addition, legislator Mark Tarbrake (R-Ellicott) said delaying the vote would only result in more money being lost in the long-run.
“The problem with postponing the vote, is the fact that we’re losing money on this facility every single day,” Tarbrake said. “I agree with what Mr. Ahlstrom said. He’s got a lot of wisdom here and he’s served on this body for a long time. We’re here to serve our constituents and if you can’t vote now with your conscience, then there’s a problem. I don’t think we should postpone the vote. I think it is important for the citizens of this county.”
Waiting to vote could be a gamble
Farbenblum said that he would prefer the legislature stick with the Oct. 30 deadline since that was what was agreed to during negotiations. After the meeting, WRFA asked him what would happen should the legislature vote against the sale on Oct. 30, which is a likely scenario. One of the options is that another vote could come forward later this year or even early next year, although Farbenblum said he can’t guarantee VestraCare would still be interested.
“if it comes to it, I’ll play the waiting game, but I can’t promise that I’ll be here,” Farbenblum said. “I will tell you that there are two county facilities for sale right now that we are interested in and it’s going to be this one or that one at the end of the day. And if that one turns into a sure thing, I can’t say ‘no’ because this one is a maybe.”
The legislature is expected to act on the sale of the home on during a special voting session on Oct. 30. A total of 17 ‘yes’ votes would be required in order for the sale to go through. In January of this year, the legislature voted 16 to 9 in favor of selling the home to Altitude Health Services of Chicago – which was one vote short of the required 17. A second attempt in February to sell to Altitude Health Services also failed.
In all, the special meeting lasted an hour and 45 minutes. A total of 20 legislators were in attendance, with Bob Duff (I-Sheridan), Shaun Heenan (D-Fredonia), Bob Stewart (R-Conewango), Lori Cornell (D-Jamestown) and Tim Hoyer (D-Jamestown) all absent – although Farbenblum said that both Cornell and Hoyer have been in contact with him to ask questions about VestraCare.