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January 16, 2014

Manor's top bidder defends record

By Joe Mahoney The Daily Star
Cooperstown Crier

---- —  A company that is now the frontrunner to take over the Otsego Manor nursing home has been diligent about conducting background checks on all employees at its 120-bed Utica home, a spokesman said Monday.

Focus Ventures, a Rockland County investment firm, gave background checks to all employees at the Utica home, now called Focus Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, after acquiring the home in 2011, the spokesman, Kirk Dorn, told The Daily Star.

A 2013 inspection report on a federal government web site where such reports are posted, www.medicare.gov, notes that the Utica home had not been completing the background checks on some employees. But Dorn said Focus has been doing those reports since taking over from the previous operator, and in fact went back and made sure there were criminal history checks on the staffers who had been kept on when Focus acquired the 120-bed nursing home.

The Daily Star reported Saturday that Focus is the high bidder for the Otsego Manor, offering to pay $18.5 million to Otsego County to take it over. The other finalist that remains in contention, VestraCare, has offered $15 million but has achieved significantly higher ratings on the government’s 5-point system for evaluating nursing homes. The Focus home drew a “1,” the lowest rating.

William Dornburgh of Cooperstown, one of the seven local development corporation board members who will decide later this month on the next operator of the Manor, said he has particular concerns with the criticism of Focus for not doing adequate background checks.

“Track records count with me,” said Dornburgh, a retired banker who went public with his support for VestraCare last week after it became clear to him that a majority of the LDC board favored Focus.

Dornburgh said that while he was “upbraided” by one of his LDC colleagues for speaking out in favor of the lower offer from VestraCare, “The local people here in Cooperstown are responding to me favorably for what I said. They’re patting me on the back.”

Dornburgh’s wife, Patricia, is an Alzheimer’s patient at the Manor, and he said she is one of a small number of private pay patients at the 174-bed home just south of Cooperstown, at a cost of $275 per day, or more than $100,000 per year.

Another reason why he said he supports VestraCare is because its presentation included a letter of intent from Bassett Medical Center indicating that it would develop a formal relationship for medical services with the Manor should the company take over the nursing home.

He said Focus representatives had made no mention of having lined up a working relationship with Bassett.

However, Dorn, the spokesman for Focus, said Focus “anticipates establishing a long-term relationship with Bassett” should it buy the Manor.

On Monday, Kurt Apthorpe, the Manor’s current administrator, sent the LDC board members an email — a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Star — indicating that Focus has made an “impressive” effort to correct deficiencies found at the Utica home under its previous management.

Commenting on the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services system for evaluating nursing homes, Apthorpe wrote: “There are flaws with the system and CMS cautions making decisions solely on this comparison.”

He added that the ratings “are not reset when a new owner takes over” and reflect the past three inspection cycles.

While he acknowledged the Utica home has a one-star rating, Apthorpe also noted that the Focus management there “inherited serious deficiencies from the previous owner. Their most recent inspection in January 2013 had deficiencies, but none at a level considered severe or resulting in resident harm.”

Apthorpe’s email did not discuss the high grades achieved by VestraCare.

Dornburgh said that three of his LDC board colleagues who favor the Focus bid — Kim Muller, Richard Eastman and Rep. Don Lindberg, R-Worcester — were absent from the board’s Dec. 17 meeting at which both Focus and VestraCare representatives made presentations.

“That was really one of the most important meetings we had,” said Dornburgh.

Lindberg said there was a snowstorm that day, and he had to do work on his properties.

“That was just a meeting where they said how they were going to do things,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re not knowledgeable” about what the suitors are planning for the Manor in the event they take it over.

The LDC board is scheduled to meet again at 2 p.m. on Jan. 27 at the Manor.

An agenda for the meeting posted on the county website states that the purpose of the meeting is “regular business.” However, Dornburgh and others familiar with the LDC’s work said they expect the board will decide that day between the Focus and VestraCare bids.

The chairwoman of the LDC board, Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, has said that the board would only make a decision on a buyer once it’s convinced that it can maintain a high level of patient care at the facility.

The county’s financial losses in running the Manor are piling up to the tune of about $500,000 per month, according to county officials.