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January 23, 2014

Manor bidder questions rival's record

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
Cooperstown Crier

---- — A nursing home administrator whose company is in contention to buy the Otsego Manor said Friday the deal offered by her firm would create far less risk for Otsego County taxpayers than the one submitted by a competitor that is now the high bidder at $18.5 million.

Shannon Cayea-Delker is a town of Oneonta resident and the administrator for Susquehanna Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Johnson City, one of the homes run by VestraCare, a firm that has bid $15 million for the Manor.

While the VestraCare bid is lower, Cayea-Delker said Focus Ventures LLC of Rockland County, faced a lengthy delay in acquiring a certificate of need from the state Health Department for the home it acquired in Utica in 2011. That property is now called Focus Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. It was previously called the Loretto-Utica Nursing Home.

Cayea-Delker said while the Health Department “expedited” a certificate of need for the Golden Hill nursing home it acquired in Kingston last year, the same agency delayed issuing the certificate to Focus for the Utica home after it closed on the property in 2011.

Otsego County could end up facing significant costs, she said, if Focus acquired the Manor and faced similar delays.

Her comment came a week after The Daily Star reported that Focus Ventures is now the frontrunner of the two remaining suitors, after offering the highest bid. Members of the local development corporation that was created to pick the next Manor operator are divided in the selection, and insiders said informal jockeying is taking place after one of the members, William Dornburgh of Cooperstown, questioned the track record of Focus in an interview with The Daily Star.

Taking note of the difference between the two rival bids, Cayea-Delker said, “Three and a half million (dollars) is chump change if the county is going to have to continue to be financially responsible for the Manor.”

County officials have said the county is losing about $500,000 per month while operating the Manor. The public subsidies for the Manor could add up quickly if the state delays approving a new owner for the 174-bed home just south of Cooperstown, she said.

A spokesman for the Focus owners, Kirk Dorn sought to knock back the contentions put forward by Cayea-Delker, saying she was comparing apples and oranges by contrasting the application for the Utica nursing home certificate of need with the Focus submission for the Utica facility.

“There is no merit to a suggestion like that,” Dorn said. “Each case is unique.” He said the change of ownership of the Utica facility had been complicated by the fact the home was in bankruptcy under the previous ownership and had been mismanaged.

As for the Otsego Manor, Dorn said, “The state Health Department is going to take the same amount of time to process the application whoever the winning bidder is.”

Several hours after being asked for an explanation of the Focus application for a certificate of need, a public information officer for the state Health Department, James O’Hare, said Friday night he had no information. When presented by a reporter with the state certificate number listed on the agency’s web site for the Utica home, O’Hare said he was waiting for another Health Care staffer to look up the information that was requested at midday.

Meanwhile, one of the backers of the Focus bid, county Rep. Don Lindberg, R-Worcester, said he visited the VestraCare nursing home in Broome County this week and came away convinced that the local development corporation should accept the Focus offer.

“There were people all over the hallways with nothing to do,” Lindberg said of the VestraCare home. “Focus does the best job. If I had to be in one home or the other, I’d be in Utica.”

Dornburgh has said that one reason he views the VestraCare bid as superior is because the company has forged a relationship with Bassett Medical Center, something that was missing in the Focus presentation.

Cayea-Delker also accented that fact, saying, “By partnering with Bassett Hospital, we can begin to implement some specialized programs that the Manor and the region don’t currently have. It will provide a continuum of care that is lacking right now. The other company didn’t even both to reach out to the biggest medical center in the region.”

Dorn, the Focus spokesman, said her company also plans to work closely with Bassett.

In response to questions, Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, said the local development corporation has not contacted the state Health Department to research the certificates of need for the homes operated by Focus and VestraCare.

“In retrospect, it might have been a good idea,” she said.

She said no final decision has been made.

The decision on the Manor sale could be made when the LDC, known as the Otsego County Health Facilities Corp., meets at the Manor at 2 p.m. on Jan. 27. It is not required, however, that the board make the selection that day.