By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — The Orleans County Legislature has kept a promise made in 2011 — the Villages of Orleans Health & Rehabilitation Center will remain county owned through 2014 — but efforts could begin by the end of this month to find a buyer for the Albion nursing home.
The Orleans County Legislature voted Wednesday to hold a public hearing at 4:15 p.m. Feb. 27 on a proposed transfer of the Villages to a newly formed local development corporation. The county-appointed board would manage the transition of the Villages from a publicly-owned facility to a privately-owned operation.
Legislature Chairman David Callard said the county's commitment to providing compassionate care to the residents of The Villages would remain unchanged regardless of the LDC's efforts, which he asserted were needed to ensure that the 120-bed facility stays open.
The 2013 county budget projected that the Villages to have a $2.4 million operating deficit, with $825,000 in property taxes levied in 2013 to pare down the losses, despite maintaining an occupancy rate of more than 93 percent.
Callard said it would be "impossible to close" the growing gap between Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and costs to provide nursing and rehab services without detrimental reductions in staffing or punitive increases in property taxes.
"There are so many factors beyond our control," Callard said in a statement read at Wednesday's meeting, which can be viewed in full at www.tinyurl.com/callardvillages. "We cannot wait and hope that things are going to get better. That would be fiscally irresponsible and simply 'unfair' to the taxpayers."
Legislature Vice-Chairman George Bower, who said the county had "misled the public" about the timing of the sale of the facility, was the lone dissenting vote against scheduling the public hearing.
"There may come a time to sell because of the burden on taxpayers," Bower said. "I thought the process would start in 2014 — it started today."
Callard insisted that any transfer to a private entity would not conclude until 2014. After the meeting, he noted that required state review of a sale would take at least 18 to 24 months.
According to a document produced by the Legislature, which can be viewed in full at www.tinyurl.com/villagesfaq, the facility would be "remain a county asset, run by county personnel, financed with county funds, with appropriate oversight by the Legislature" during the proposed LDC process.
"Nothing changes, everything remains the same," Callard said.
Wednesday's vote places a firmer-date for the potential sale of the nursing home than legislators have made in previous years. The Legislature passed a measure in September 2011 "providing certainty" that the nursing home would remain county-owned through the end of 2014, an announcement which quieted a months-long campaign by a group called Concerned Citizens of Orleans County to pressure the county to not sell the facility.
County Chief Administrative Officer Chuck Nesbitt said Wednesday that assurance was given in 2011 because the county was confident the nursing home's financial reserves would not be depleted due to operating losses before the end of next year.
"After that, we were less certain," Nesbitt said.
Callard said there will be a long-term need for a nursing facility whether it is county-owned or not. A New York State Department of Health study projects that the county will need 360 nursing home beds by 2016, 50 more than the county's current capacity.Contact reporter Jim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.