Medina Journal-Register — With the dawn of a new year fast approaching, the Journal-Register has taken a look at the most important and unique stories of 2013.
What follows is our Top 10 list:
No. 1: The Villages of Orleans
Put simply, the Orleans County Nursing Home dominated the headlines this year as debate raged on over the decision to sell it.
Members of the Orleans County Legislature turned over control of the nursing home to the Orleans County Health Facilities Corporation (LDC) in 2012. Much of 2013 centered around the fate of the nursing home, and the LDC’s creation was challenged in court twice. Both times the creation was deemed legal.
Many who ventured to county meetings in the past year, and others who wrote letters to the editor, campaigned for a public vote on the issue. That, too, was classified as illegal.
As Election Day approached in November, four candidates ran as members of the Save Our Nursing Home Party. With all seven legislative seats up for election — and six being contested — the grassroots effort had hopes of turning the tide of the nursing home sale.
When the November ballots were counted, only one incumbent, Henry Smith, lost his seat to a challenger, Fred Miller. None of the candidates who ran on the nursing home platform won a seat, although they did make a strong showing. But a strong showing was not enough.
The latest challenge to the sale of The Villages was made in the past few weeks when a resolution passed by the Orleans County Board of Supervisors in 1830 was brought up to the legislature. After a few weeks to determine its standing, the county determined resolutions passed in the years since have superceded the one from 1830, deeming it “irrelevant.”
As the year comes to a close, the LDC is in the process of narrowing down the bidders on the nursing home. Two finalists have been announced, and both own nursing home properties elsewhere in New York State.
No. 2: Murder
In early March, Frederick C. Miller, 61, was charged with second-degree murder after an investigation into the death of his housemate, Rachel A. Miller, 53. The incident took place in Waterport.
The case is ongoing.
According to reports from the Orleans County Sheriff’s Office at the time of the crime, some type of physical altercation between the unrelated and unmarried couple led to Ms. Miller’s death. A school bus driver saw her body along Oak Orchard River Road, where the altercation is reported to have ended.
Since March, Mr. Miller has appeared in court several times. He recently changed attorneys and his new attorney was given the chance to file a new motions. Because of that, the trial for Mr. Miller, originally set to begin in mid-January, has been pushed back indefinitely.
As for Ms. Miller, in early December the people she worked with at Rainbow Preschool in Albion dedicated a classroom in her memory.
No. 3: Baby finds a Safe Haven
The Medina Fire Department got a phone call in late May alerting it to the pending arrival of a young woman with a newborn baby. The Safe Haven law allows mothers the chance to leave their newborns in the care of a responsible person within a certain time frame after birth. Doing so relinquishes the mother’s parenting rights.
In May, the MFD was a Safe Haven. Firefighters on duty performed their duties admirably and they transported the baby to Batavia. Tim Jaccard, president and director of the NYS Children of Hope Baby Safe Haven Program, said the incident was a prime example of how to best utilize the legislation found in the law. He praised the MFD, calling their response a “textbook” example of how to properly go about accepting a safe haven baby.
Jaccard visited Medina and Batavia two weeks later to honor Firefighter David Pollock and the MFD, and the responding staff at Batavia United Memorial Medical Center. The Touch of Life Award was presented at both places.
No. 4: JPMorgan Chase/CRFS
Two of Orleans County’s largest employers made big headlines for different reasons this year.
In September, the JPMorgan Chase call center in Albion shut its doors, leaving about 400 employees without jobs. The company made an effort to help those employees find work elsewhere.
The building, meanwhile, did not sit vacant for too long.
Soon after JPMorgan Chase closed, Medina businessman Roger Hungerford bought the building. One of his current tenants, CRFS, was then announced as making plans to move to the Albion location. In doing so, CRFS (Claims Recovery Financial Services) also announced plans to expand its operation by roughly 150 employees. Of that initial expansion, 55 were former JPMorgan Chase employees.
Jodi Gaines, founder and CEO of CRFS, stated at the time, “We began here in Orleans County, we’re staying here, and the best is yet to come.” She said that within five years, she hopes to see the company increase its total employment to around 900.
No. 5: Orchard Manor
Under new management, Orchard Manor’s employees took a vote and decided to unionize.
Several employees who were among the most pro-union voices in the decision pointed to the way the nursing home’s administration and practices “changed” after it was privatized. Prior to that happening, they said they had never felt a need to join a union.
Statements from higher-ups at Orchard Manor said the changes at the facility were done with patient care in mind, and officials at the home and employees agreed on that: patient care is paramount.
Since the vote to unionize Orchard Manor has hired a new administrator. Employees and administration both looked to move forward in the wake of the union vote.
No. 6: MMH changes
Medina Memorial Hospital underwent a number of changes this year.
It added a mammography clinic and a sleep clinic. It closed its behavioral health unit.
Among the most noticeable aesthetic change was the addition of a helipad for Mercy Flight helicopters.
As for administrative changes, a new chief executive officer was named for the hospital.
Dolores Horvath was made the permanent CEO in late October. She had served as the interim CEO after MMH’s former CEO, James Sinner, left to “pursue other opportunities.”
No. 7: Hospital money
In a case that is continuing to move along slowly, Medina Memorial Hospital sued a former employee in February for misappropriating more than $400,000 in payroll funds.
Linda Rakonczay formerly worked as the hospital’s payroll coordinator, and according to the original summons, the hospital sought a return of all the funds she allegedly embezzled in a scheme that began around 2006.
There has been little news in the case since, but the amount in question has increased to more than $700,000.
Also, though officials will neither confirmed nor deny, multiple sources have said the case is being investigated at the federal level by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI. Criminal charges have yet to be filed against Rakonczay.
No. 8: Point Breeze
The small community in northern Carlton won the title of Ultimate Fishing Town in June.
Point Breeze took the title from among over 700 towns vying for the crown, which was awarded by the World Fishing Network.
Point Breeze was awarded $25,000 and a trophy for winning the award. Carlton town officials said the money would be used to continue to promote fishing in the area.
No. 9: Inclement weather
Three major storms hit the area this year.
In late winter major winds toppled some trees and dropped limbs all over Orleans County.
Heavy rains drenched the area in April, flooding parts of the county. Some of the worst hit areas were in Niagara County, as residents could be seen riding canoes on the streets of Lockport. In Orleans County, residents in Knowlesville and in Albion spoke to their local governments about flooding issues.
The summer was fairly typical, but once winter arrived, so did temperatures colder than those of the past couple years. This was most evident just before Christmas when an ice storm blanketed the area, leading to damage in some areas.
No. 10: SAFE Act
The New York State SAFE Act was met with great disdain among many local residents. They were not alone.
In the wake of the state’s legislation, Orleans County and all of its municipalities became the first to fully pass resolutions protesting the new law.