By VINCE HORRIGAN
As a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force and 10-year director of a major human service agency across Chautauqua County, I have learned that leadership decisions require an unbiased and deep understanding of the issue. A YouTube video is now making its way across the computer screens of Chautauqua County residents which asks the question: "Avi Rothner: A Good Choice?"
The heavily edited 25-minute video captures selected legislators cross examining the proposed buyer of our County Nursing Home by referencing internet blog reports, and dated Chicago newspaper stories concerning his business interests and nursing homes operated by his father, Mr. Eric Rothner. Of course, the clear intent of the video is to discredit William Avi Rothner and portray him as a bad choice to own and operate the Chautauqua County Home. This video has spurred me to tell you ... the rest of the story.
Upon learning of a perspective buyer of the County Home, I set to work to investigate the track record of William Avi Rothner. Of course, just like many others, I "Googled" his name and promptly saw that William's father, Eric Rothner, was involved with Nursing Homes in the Midwest. But I wanted to know about the proposed buyer William Avi Rothner. I began with the officials involved in the sale of the Pima County Home in Tucson, Ariz. - renamed the Foothills Rehabilitation Center. I learned that a well below average, 1 star, (Medicare rated) money losing, county run nursing home was turned around into a privately owned 4 star (above average) Medicare facility.
As I stated in the October Legislature meeting, (which was omitted from the YouTube video) I was fortunate to know a retired professional health care consultant who, at my request, drove out to the facility with his wife to see firsthand the state of the home. He began by talking to a 10-year nursing home employee. The employee said that at first the employees were very nervous about the sale and wondered how the new owners would treat them.
Actually, she said, the transition went very well and there have been few complaints. Overall she said she felt that improvements had been made to the facility. She did not seem to have any personal complaints about the facility or any part of her job. He observed a clean facility, with a client focused atmosphere which serves a primarily Medicaid population.
His overall impression was "that it serves a primarily non-affluent senior citizen population and that it accomplishes that mission well." But I wanted more information.
I chose to contact the ombudsman office for the Tucson area nursing home. They stated that the above average ratings of the facility speak for themselves. She further stated that while some employees have left, many of the original employees have remained and there are no significant problems resulting from the transfer from public to private ownership. My conclusion: William Avi Rothner is a good choice to own and operate nursing homes.
I then investigated the William Avi Rothner nursing homes in Lincoln, Neb. I began with the Medicare ratings and saw that Homestead Nursing Home is an above average 4 star home while the Lancaster Home is a 3 star (average) rated facility. Again I turned to the ombudsman office for Lancaster County. I was fortunate to talk to a person who was a previous social worker. She said there are no significant complaints from families or residents at the Homestead Facility. My conclusion: William Avi Rothner is a good choice to own and operate nursing homes.
Our conversation then turned to the Lancaster Home, which was previously a county run facility. As a prior social worker, the ombudsman stated that "it was like a kick in the gut" to the employees when the county privatized (sold) the home. She said the residents were very worried that those who took care of them would lose their jobs and they would have to learn to trust somebody else.
Then came the rest of the story. "Mr. Horrigan, I never thought I would come to this but after several years under private management, the quality of care has not declined in any manner." She said there are no complaints from families or residents. She stated that if there was a decline in care, she would hear about it through the ombudsman program. My conclusion: William Avi Rothner is a good choice to own and operate nursing homes.
But I was not done yet. How do I reconcile all the negative internet postings with the positive interviews that I am getting from those who have made the change from county run to William Avi Rothner run facilities. I turned to a member of the Lancaster County Board of Supervisors who was at the heart of the Lancaster County Home sale process. She said that during their deliberations they faced an onslaught of negative information which was several inches high, much like the pile seen in the YouTube video. She said that one group was forced to pay $10,000 and make a public apology to Mr. William Avi Rothner in an anti-defamation lawsuit. She stated that after three years, none of the negative predictions came true.
On the contrary, she said William Avi Rothner is a hands-on owner who takes a personal interest in the quality of his nursing homes. She stated he invested over $1 million in the facility and turned it from a 1 star (well below average) into a three star Medicare rated facility. Furthermore, she said that while some employee turnover did occur, the majority of quality employees were retained. She said she would not hesitate to place a family member in the facility. She explained that each member of the Board of Supervisors came to their decision to sell for different reasons. But after three years, it is clear that the decision to privatize was the correct one.
My conclusion: William Avi Rothner is a good choice to run the Chautauqua County Nursing Home.
As legislators, we are elected to represent the people of our districts while keeping in mind the best interests of Chautauqua County. As we review the Altitude Health Services sales contract, our goal should be to adopt the best possible contract for the County Home residents, employees and the citizens of Chautauqua County. Rejecting the sale of our Medicare rated 1 star nursing home which costs the taxpayers of Chautauqua County over $3 million per year is not a good choice. Approving a good contract with Mr. William Avi Rothner is a good choice.
Now you have the rest of the story.
Vince Horrigan is a county legislator from Bemus Point, representing District 17.