BATAVIA, NY -- Contrary to the perception that might be out there, there is no "for sale" sign hanging on the Genesee County Nursing Home.
That doesn't mean the county couldn't seek a buyer, but according to County Manager Jay Gsell, the only thing the county is doing right now is looking for a consultant to help it study options for dealing with escalating costs associated with the home.
One of those options is sale, which is what has former legislature candidate Chris Charvella so concerned.
Charvella has been drafted to organize and speak for a group of concerned citizens -- including some residents of the home -- seeking to block any possible sale, even before the option is fully studied.
"I realize it's not set in stone," Charvella said. "But our county government has a history of looking for sale as the first option rather than fully considering other options."
The local businessman is pretty convinced that given the option, the legislature would seek a buyer for the home pretty quickly.
"The County Legislature's first duty is to the taxpaying citizens and this is an essential service," Charvella said. "We have people who pay taxes here their entire lives and expect this safety-net option."
Human Services Committee Chairwoman Esther Leadley said that, of course, sale is an option. It has to be, she said, if the Legislature is to act responsibly in protecting the interests of taxpayers.
The county is in a difficult position, she said.
"This has been coming at us like a freight train and we're sitting on the tracks," Leadley said. "The taxpayers are sitting on the tracks and we can't let them stay there. This is something that we're not rah-rah to do. It is something that we've got to look at."
Last month, the county put out a request-for-proposal seeking bids from potential consultants. The RFP spells out clearly what the county is looking for:
"Genesee County, New York, a non-chartered county government located in western New York between Buffalo and Rochester is seeking a professional service/consultant to assist the County in evaluating its options for the operation, management and/or sale of its 160 bed Skilled Nursing Facility and adjoined 80 bed Public Adult Home which comprise a complete long term care facility located at 278 Banks Street, Batavia, NY 14020. Said service/consultant will be asked to assist the County in outlining options for future public and/or private ownership/operation of the present 240 bed facility and to help the County develop a strategy and plan of action for going forward with said facility and residents."
The big-cost bullet the county is looking to dodge, according to Gsell, is escalating personnel costs, especially in regard to benefits.
"Public employees cost more than private-sector employees and that's the kind of thing we will factor in where this going," Gsell said.
Gsell said that he wouldn't expect any current employees to lose their jobs if the facility was sold or operation was turned over to a private company. Because of the skills and experience required for such a facility, any new provider would almost certainly need to keep the current staff.
He also said the level of service would unlikely change, because of all the state mandates on such a facility.
Charvella isn't convinced service wouldn't suffer.
"If the margins are so thin, then a private company is going to pay more attention to the bottom line rather than patient care," Charvella said.
If the county did sell or lease the facility, Gsell said the local government would still have a substantial cost burden associated with its ongoing operation. The county would still pay more than $1.6 million in social services, such as its share of Medicaid payments, to keep the facility open. The consultant will be asked what the ongoing costs to the county will be with any of the possible options.