By Joe Mahoney
---- — Two months after more than 1,500 people signed a petition urging that Otsego Manor not be privatized, Otsego County lawmakers are inching closer to recruiting a consultant who would help them market the home.
Otsego County Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, said of three applicants for the consulting position, a Rochester outfit called the Center for Governmental Research appears to have the experience qualifications sought by county officials for the guidance that will be needed for the complex transaction.
The full Board of Representatives is expected to vote on the contract after the members meet privately at an executive session scheduled for Jan. 11 at the county building in Cooperstown, she said.
Privatizing the 174-bed Manor is opposed not only by many patients at the nursing home but also by the union for more than 200 workers at the facility, the Civil Service Employees Association.
The county board began looking into selling the home last year when county Treasurer Dan Crowell did a financial analysis showing the ballooning deficit at the home will cause the taxpayer subsidy to the facility to soar above $5 million this year.
Stuligross said the Center for Governmental Research provided guidance to Fulton County lawmakers when they also chose to privatize its county-owned home.
That particular arrangement led to reductions in the nursing home workforce as well as concerns about the quality of care provided by the new operator, CSEA official Robert Compani told the Otsego board in November.
Stuligross said any final decision on the fate of the Manor will rest with the Otsego board — not with the consultant.
“We’re not going to sell to anybody who does not have a strong financial position, and we’re not going to sell to anybody who does not have a strong background in providing quality health care,” she said.
She said county officials want to see “a seamless transition” with “minimal impact on patients and minimal impact on employees.”
A leader of the grassroots effort to keep the home in county hands, Maureen Culbert of Springfield, a veteran volunteer at the Manor, said she remains skeptical of claims that privatizing the home will not jeopardize patient care.
“The are just going to be cutting personnel, and that is not something you want to do with a nursing home,” Culbert said.
Culbert said she is not giving up on her campaign to convince county board members from exploring alternatives that would allow the nursing home to remain an asset of county government.
“It belongs to the county residents,” she said. “The board should find the money and find a way to make it work.”
Her local representative, Keith McCarty, R-Springfield, said he would an increase in the county’s share of the sales tax, bringing it from 4 percent to 4.5 percent, as one way to raise revenue that could forestall the privatization of the Manor.
“I’m not throwing the Manor under the bus yet,” said McCarty.
However, Rep. Kathy Clark, R-Otego, the chairwoman of the Board of Representatives, said she will not back any calls for boosting the sales tax. She argued such a move would make businesses less competitive with rivals in nearby counties and thus have a negative impact on Otsego County finances.
Mark Lavigne, spokesman for the state Association of Counties, said several counties have already privatized their nursing homes and more are considering the option.
“These are difficult decisions that county officials don’t want to make,” Lavigne said. For many counties, he said, running nursing homes has become financially unsustainable, and county officials have been forced to consider privatizing them because they are a discretionary program, one that is not mandated by the state.
Clark said there is no firm deadline for privatizing the Manor.
“The process evolves,” she said. “I don’t want to put a date on it.”
Culbert maintained the board has failed to adequately explore options other than selling the home.
“Where is the Plan B?” she asked. “What if they don’t find a suitable buyer?”