By Joe Mahoney THE DAILY STAR
---- — The local development company created by Otsego County to sell the Otsego Manor has whittled down the list of companies that want to buy the nursing home to five bidders including Cooperstown-based Bassett Healthcare Network.
Vestracare, which operates the Susquehanna Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Johnson City, is also among the companies still in the running after a total of eight bids were submitted, county officials said Monday.
The other three bidders still in contention are: Focus Ventures of Airmont, the Centers for Specialty Care Corp. in the Bronx and Personal Healthcare of Tarrytown.
Officials familiar with the proposals said there was a wide range of sums offered in the proposals for the 174-bed Manor, with the lowest topping $5 million. They refused to release specific amounts, noting negotiations with the bidders will begin after the financial stability of each company is evaluated.
County Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, the chairwoman of the Otsego County Health Facilities Corp., whose mission is to privatize the Manor, said a “travel team” of trustees of the corporation made on-site inspections of the nursing homes operated by all of the bidders, with the exception of Bassett.
“They were all excellent nursing homes, with fine quality of care,” Stuligross said. “We were very impressed.”
The local development corporation members who went on the inspections were accompanied by Kurt Apthorpe, the Manor’s current administrator, and Maureen Imperato, the home’s nursing director, because their expertise on the delivery of medical services was needed, Stuligross said.
The next step, she said, is to conduct unannounced visits at facilities owned by the finalists, but not the ones that have already been inspected. The idea is to check out those places at times when the operators aren’t expecting the visits.
“I know that when someone is coming to my home, it is going to look really good,” Stuligross noted. “We want to see what they look like when they don’t know we’re coming.”
Bassett’s facilities were not visited because its portfolio consists mainly of medical clinics, Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, A.O. Fox Hospital in Oneonta and Cobleskill Regional Hospital.
The companies that made the cut will be sent questionnaires asking them for specific financial reports and more details about their plans for the Manor.
The Healthcare Facilities Corp. will meet again on Nov. 14 to discuss the proposals and the companies making them. That session is expected to be held in executive session, or closed to the public, because it will involve contract negotiations.
Stuligross noted that the corporation has not ruled out the possibility of asking the bidders to revise their proposals.
Rep. Don Lindberg, R-Worcester, a member of the local development corporation’s board, said the county owes approximately $15 million on the bond for building the nursing home, and an additional $6 million in interest, once the next payment on the note is made later this month.
Both amounts must be paid off in full, Lindberg said, pointing out that the interest on the bond is different than the finance charges on a mortgage, which end once the balance is paid off in full.
Whether the county comes close to garnering the full amount it owes for the nursing home remains to be seen, he said.
A proposed county budget for 2014, as outlined by Treasurer Dan Crowell last week, would set the county subsidy for the Manor next year at about $4.3 million. The nursing home has had to rely more and more on infusions of cash from the county treasury as the reimbursement rates for federal health care programs have declined and other costs such as pension obligations and employee wages have risen.
Lindberg said he is optimistic that the financial bumps faced by the Manor will end once it is sold to a private operator.
“Private people can do it better,” said Lindberg, who was the first county official to propose that it be sold.
“We’re looking to get the best run organization and the most money for the county,” he said of the corporation’s top objectives.
Through state government’s certificate-of-need process, the next Manor operator will also have to pass muster with the state Department of Health and convince the agency that it has the financial fitness to run the Manor in accordance with stringent nursing home regulations.