Ontario County is moving forward with the privatization of its nursing home. The board of supervisors voted last week to accept a $2 million bid for the Hopewell facility, but concerns remain about the level of care a private owner would provide.
The sale makes Ontario the latest in a string of counties in upstate New York looking to privatization as a solution to the rising costs of operating a nursing home.
Steuben, Chautauqua, and Onondaga Counties are among many considering or finalizing the sale of county facilities to private operators.
Dave Baker is a member of the Ontario County Board of Supervisors. He was one of only four who voted against the sale. He says both residents and employees are likely to suffer because of the decision.
“When a private concern is chasing the profitability of their organization, something has to give," Baker said. "In this case I think it will be quality and I think it will be the pay for the employees,” he says.
Baker says current staff will have the opportunity to apply for positions when the nursing home changes hands, but it’s unlikely they’ll receive the same level of pay or benefits that they have as county employees.
That’s likely to translate to a decrease in the quality of care in the long term, he says.
“I would say that on a scale of one to 10, 10 being outstanding care, county employees provide those residents with a 10 in quality," Baker said. "My exposure to the private side has been that it runs around the seven to the eight level. I hope and pray that we haven’t made a serious mistake here that we can’t recover from.”
The county currently subsidizes the nursing home to the tune of $3 million each year and Baker concedes that’s likely to rise to $5 million in coming years.
But he says it’s the responsibility of the county to look after its aging residents, not outsource the task to the private sector.
Fellow member on the Ontario County Board of Supervisors, Charlie Evangelista, says it wasn’t an easy decision to sell the facility, but a necessary one.
“For me it’s a fairness issue," Evangelista said. "Should 100,000 people in Ontario County be having to pay $4-5 million a year for 80 individuals that may be receiving that same level of care by the private sector?”
Evangelista admits there’s no guarantee the level of care will remain the same. But, he says the new owners will not just be left to their own devices, they’ll still have to hold up to state standards.
“I would really be relying on New York state and the New York State Department of Health," Evangelista said. "They’re the ones who oversaw the home when we had it and the same conditions are going to hold true for the private sector. They have to be inspected, there has to be a level of care, there has to be input from the residents. It’s not like it’s going to be some renegade institution and they have to abide by the guidelines or they’re fined. Is there any sort of guarantee that we’re going to get the same level of care? I would say no. But that isn’t going to preclude myself from voting to sell.”
The nursing home was purchased by the Centers for Specialty Care Group. The contract specifies that the facility must continue to provide aged care for a minimum of ten years.