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October 3, 2012

Countryside residents scramble as Oct. 12 closure date looms

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — “I have no idea what my future is,” Countryside Care Center resident, 53-year-old Gary Finkle said. “It scares the hell out of me.” Finkle, a quadriplegic from a 1980s fall that broke two vertebrae, had been at the facility since 1990. 

In response to a federal request to correct healthcare deficiencies, Countryside operator Leatherstocking Healthcare LLC filed a closure plan with the state Department of Health in mid-September. It called for Oct. 12 to be the last day before Countryside’s doors are closed for good. As of Monday, 93 residents remained, down from the approximately 125 when the closure was announced in September. The latest employee estimate was 150.

The facility was bought from Delaware County by Leatherstocking in 2006. The company hasn’t responded to repeated numerous phone calls and emails since the move to close the facility began. The company was not accepting voicemails at its phone number Tuesday. The Department of Health, which is working with facility on the closure, previously said that proper care will be found for all residents.

Staff, residents and their family talked about the situation at the facility Tuesday.

Finkle said he was waiting to reschedule an operation for a pressure sore at A.O. Fox Hospital that was supposed to take place in September. An upper respiratory infection forced the cancellation. Now, he isn’t sure where if he can go to Fox for the procedure.

“I don’t know who is going to be here” at the end of next week, he said, and administrators haven’t told him what to expect.

Over the years, he has purchased equipment that allows him to function in the room by operating electronic equipment such as a computer and television. He doesn’t know what will happen to that in a new location, he said.

His sister, area resident Ellen Ciferri, came to see him. She has been a regular visitor since she moved back to the area four years ago. His certified nursing assistant and nurses are “wonderful,” she said.

“They are as upset as we are,” she said.

She hasn’t heard from Leatherstocking about what to expect, she said, adding that he will be isolated without his equipment.

“It’s cruel and unusual punishment,” she said.

Claire Gotthardt has been working as a certified nursing assistant at the facility since 1982.

“We enjoy working here,” but she and others are traumatized by the situation, she said. She doesn’t know what the plans are to move residents out. Four people were moved to a Spring Valley facility last week, she said — but their belongings are still at Countryside.

“It’s chaos,” she said.

Sheila Alvarez is also a CNA at the site.

“It’s the saddest thing I’ve done in my life,” she said about the situation. “It’s very hard on the residents,” but under the circumstances, “there is not a choice. We have to help them pack and get ready to go” if there is a space found at an available nursing home. Some of the towns and cities to which residents have been sent include Rome, Amsterdam, Spring Valley, Vestal and Binghamton, Alvarez said. Administration is trying to notify families as quickly as possible, she said, and if a family is working on an alternate placement, Countryside is trying to accommodate them.

The layoffs of staff began Monday, Alvarez said. She said she didn’t know how many were affected, and there is no union. There is adequate staffing to deal with the population, she said, but the staff is not being told anything by the administration.

This includes the possibility of a buyer for the facility that had been mentioned by county officials previously. Another resident who discussed her concerns was 87-year-old Elizabeth Hawley. She came to the facility five years ago because of a medical condition that prevents her from caring for herself.

“I feel like we’ve been betrayed by the county for selling the facility,” she said.

When asked to comment on that charge, Delaware County Chairman of the Board of Supervisors James Eisel said it was “an unfortunate situation.” He was concerned, as was the rest of the board of supervisors, for the well-being of the residents and employees. At the time of the sale “it appeared Leatherstocking was qualified to run a successful operation.” Supervisors visited a nursing home it was running in Herkimer and were impressed by the operation, he said. There was no reason to expect that six years later this would have happened.

Hawley said her family has been very supportive but, “there is no way I can live with them.” She was told of an opening at a Rome nursing home. “I didn’t want to go there,” she said. She did not know what the alternative would be.

Ruth and Harry Hawley of Delhi were visiting. She said if her sister-in-law is moved they would still see her, but it won’t be as often. He said after his sister’s lifetime of work in the town, “she deserves better.”