One of the many talking points by those who opposed the sale of the Chautauqua County Home was that new ownership, from the private sector, would reduce the work force to improve the bottom line of a facility that has been losing millions of dollars in recent years.
During a recent OBSERVER interview with VestraCare officials, however, that worry seems unfounded.
Instead, Edward Farbenblum, executive vice president of VestraCare, and Shannon Cayea-Delker, an administrator with the group, are both looking at opportunities to grow the respected facility - and create more jobs. The group's aggressive plan is something the county-owned home could never even consider, due to state regulations.
The first proposal, which comes from the state Department of Health, calls for the need for additional slots of adult day care - about 35 - in this region. This type of care serves the senior population "who do not need to be in a nursing home," Farbenblum noted.
"It would be great to have that sort of option here," he said.
A second - and potentially larger development deal - comes from the January budget proposal of state Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Farbenblum said Cuomo's plan seeks a Request for Proposals process to add 6,000 beds for state Medicaid assisted living. About 200 of those beds would be for Chautauqua County.
Farbenblum is ready to make a pitch. "I can promise you we are going to have an application in for the governor's process," he said. "Whether or not we get awarded the beds is considerably out of our hands."
If successful, he believes, the initiatives would lead to a new 60,000-square-foot building on the property, bringing both construction jobs and additional employment at the nursing home.
In addition to looking to the future, both Farbenblum, Cayea-Delker and County Executive Vince Horrigan discussed some other issues regarding the Home. Those included:
What to do with the gas well. According to Farbenblum, this is being looked at as a liability due to its proximity to the complex and regulations of the Housing and Urban Development and nursing homes. "It's likely going to be difficult for us to tap ever," he said.
The $16 million purchase, which was reduced by $500,000 in its second offer. "We're always uncomfortable with the price," he said. "It was more expensive on straight business metrics than we are ever comfortable with."
What the name of the facility will be in the future. According to both Farbenblum and Cayea-Delker, once the sale is completed it will no longer be the County Home, but it will continue to have Chautauqua in it. "We've been punting around with Chautauqua Nursing and Rehabilitation Center," Farbenblum said.
Recent staff meetings. Horrigan said there have been five "town hall" meetings with staff and residents. The meetings, according to the group, are fairly positive. "I think they have a lot of questions and I'm hoping (residents and staff) are feeling they are being addressed and being answered," Cayea-Delker said.
When the sale becomes official. Horrigan is hoping by the end of this calendar year. "The county has to go through a closure process, which is really just a transfer (to VestraCare)."
Once the sale is completed, Horrigan is upbeat on the viability of the facility. "Our goal throughout this transition is to instill confidence in this community, the residents, the staff that this a very good way forward for Chautauqua County," the county executive said. "It's been very challenging, very divisive and very difficult. But we at the county level and the new ownership team are going to do everything we possibly can to have a transparent, robust transition process because we need to build that confidence that this is the right way forward.
"This isn't just about balancing a budget, this is about the future viability of this great nursing home and they're starting with a great product, a great residence, great staff and they are only going to make it better. We sure didn't want to go another direction, which ultimately could have resulted in closure of the Home.
"It's happened in other counties."
John D'Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to email@example.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.