By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
There’s one thing we know for sure about Rockland County’s future: We’re getting older.
I’ve made a priority out of making sure that our older residents—the ones who built this community, worked hard, and raised their families and served their country—have what they need to be comfortable as they age.
The Rockland County Legislature looked at issues facing our older residents in a 65-page report called “Aging in Place” that speaks of our shared “responsibility to support them as their needs change by providing appropriate options for housing, health and general quality of life.”
But just as our plan to sell the unneeded Sain building to a senior housing developer has been held up for two years by nonsense from the legislative majority, a plan to continue a day program for the frail elderly is also running into obstacles from some of our partners in government.
Shocking and, frankly, senseless foot-dragging now threatens to upend a program for 150 older residents with medical and physical impairments that pays mark-rate rent to the county for space that would otherwise be unused.
The program is run by Friedwald Center, a nursing and rehab center, which will pay about $126,500 yearly—an amount set by an appraiser—to rent space in Building A at the Dr. Robert L. Yeager Health Center Complex in Pomona.
Under Friedwald’s leadership, the center grew from 30 participants in 2016 to 150 participants today, which speaks volumes of the need for such a service. It’s also the only certified, medically-approved program of its kind for our elderly veterans in Rockland County.
Participants come from all over the county and receive dementia care, medical monitoring, physical, occupational and speech therapy as well as other services all in a safe, supportive environment that also provides crucial socialization, hot meals and respite for families.
A great program that helps people who need it and, at the same time, bolsters county finances. So what’s the problem?
A little history: There was a similar program in the same space at the county-owned Summit Park nursing home.As you remember, we were forced to close Summit Park when a potential buyer backed at the last moment.
We were able to relocate all residents to other nursing facilities. But what about the 30 or so people taking part in the day program? There was no similar program for them.
Then Friedwald stepped in. In order to keep the program running without interruption, we granted Friedwald a license to operate the same program in the same, familiar setting.
That license expires Dec. 31. In accordance with our county charter and state law, we asked the legislature in July to lease the space to Friedwald for about $126,500 annually, with renewal options. A standard approach.
We also submitted a proposed local law to allow the transaction. Again, standard procedure.
This is the same process by which the legislative majority voted—without hesitation—to rent space on county property at RCC for a residence hall for a token $1 annually for 50 years.
Sounds easy, right? As we all know, there are times it’s not easy when it comes to the legislature.
There has been delay after delay, capped by inaction. Here we are, just two months before the license expires, and Friedwald is no closer to having a permanent arrangement.
Friedwald staff and program participants have appealed to the legislature to take action. Some in the legislative majority want to put the space occupied by Friedwald out to bid.
Again, Friedwald will pay market rate, an amount set by a certified appraiser, so it’s hard to see what could be gained from putting it out to bid, other than to delay a lease or to disrupt and possibly displace 150 frail old people.
My administration has made every effort to keep this program running without disruption.
We don’t want to see 150 people, including veterans, thrown out of a familiar setting in a program that does so much good. And we don’t want to risk $126,500 in revenue.
Why can’t the legislative majority make the same effort?
It takes action, not just talk or long reports, to make sure that our older residents have what they need to age in place.