BY MICHAEL RICONDA
New City – After an often emotional public hearing on the future of the financially-troubled Summit Park Nursing Home, the Rockland County Legislature voted to establish a local development corporation (LDC) for the facility.
The public hearing was packed with attendees representing not only facility residents and their families but also public employees at Summit Park who feared cuts to pay and benefits in the wake of a privatization. Some residents arrived in wheelchairs in order to speak out for the nursing home.
An LDC is a public, nonprofit corporation which can be established for a broad variety of purposes. While the LDC would not permanently own the facility, it will have the title to the facility and determine the nature of any sale or leasing of the facility’s available beds to private groups. Many attendees argued privatization could lead to program cuts, meaning residents would be forced to pay for previously free services such as haircuts and leisure activities.
In particular, employees repeatedly referred to their positive experiences and strong sense of dedication, with nursemaid Angela Horan describing the hard work and close-knit relationships between staff and residents.
“We spend so much time with our residents that many of them consider us part of their family,” Horan said.
Melissa Genzano described her experiences with another assisted living facility where she claimed her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother was overmedicated and contrasted this experience with the environment and expertise she saw at Summit Park.
Summit Park’s medical care is exceptional because they care about people and not profit,” Genzano explained. “I refuse to allow [my mother] to die in a snake pit.”
Other attendees included representatives of the Rockland Association of Management (RAM) and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA). CSEA President P.T. Thomas stated that if moves toward privatization continue, the union would pursue legal action against the county.
The legislature was somewhat divided but predominantly supported the transfer, with 11 voting for the measure and 6 against it. Those who voted against the transfer to the LDC were Legislators Aney Paul, Joseph Meyers, Toney Earl, Ed Day, Douglas Jobson, and Paul Moroney.
Legislators on both sides agreed a sale was extremely unfortunate and undesirable, but differed in their opinion on whether or not it was necessary or in the best interest of the county. Both supporters and opponents of the bill directed many of their criticisms at state officials who they argued had not adequately reimbursed the county for Medicare, Medicaid and other costs while continuing to cut healthcare spending.
Chairwoman Harriet Cornell explained the resolution was borne from a lack of options and an inability to financially address the facility’s infrastructure and staffing needs.
“If I could see a way out, believe me, I would oppose it,” Cornell said.
Legislator John Murphy, who had been deeply involved in county health services for over 40 years, voted for the measure for lack of a better option in the face of shrinking Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, but described a deep reluctance to cut down a cherished effort to aid Rockland’s most vulnerable.
“I’m voting to tear down what I’ve built,” Murphy said.
Other legislators took a stance against the resolution, primarily on the grounds that previous audits and studies had not been adequate and the proposal to rescind complete county ownership had been too hasty. Legislator Meyers suggested waiting until a new county executive was elected to get a fresh perspective on the facility, while Legislator Jobson was direct in his belief that the measure was an assault on the disadvantaged.
“We’re gonna pay for it one way or another,” Jobson said. “I refuse to cut somebody’s throat, and I will not be a part of it.”
With the transfer approved by the legislature, its final step before passage will be the signature of County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, a high likelihood given the executive’s perceived eagerness to address the financial problems surrounding the facility.