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October 3, 2012

Gibson asks feds to delay Countryside aid cutoff

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — Rep. Chris Gibson has asked the federal government to reconsider a Medicare and Medicaid cutoff for Countryside Care Center to enable a potential buyer to step in, the congressman’s office confirmed Tuesday.

In a letter dated Friday, Gibson, R-Kinderhook, wrote, “The closure of this facility would have a devastating impact to that region of my district.”

Stephanie Valle, a spokeswoman for Gibson, confirmed that a potential buyer had contacted the congressman’s office, but she would not identify the interested party.

“At this point, I would say … that there’s just a potential buyer that has contacted our office,” she said.

“I think that in the opinion of the people who spoke with them – and I know they’ve reached out to Sen. (Kirsten) Gillibrand’s office, as well – it’s someone that seems to be a serious buyer.”

Asked whether that party was already in the nursing home business, Valle replied: “That would be my understanding.”

Gibson’s letter to Marilyn Tavenner, acting administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asks the agency to consider alternatives to an Oct. 12 cutoff for the current provider agreement that would stop Medicare and Medicaid payments.

“There is a buyer ready to step in, but the sale is contingent on a provider agreement being in place, which often takes one to three months to obtain,” Gibson wrote.

“I ask that your office revisit the termination of the provider agreement and immediately consider a reinstatement that is strictly for the purpose of being transferred to a new ownership.”

Gibson’s office has also contacted the office of Assemblyman Clifford Crouch, R-Guilford, to coordinate their approach, Crouch said.

“A lot times, these things can be transferred, rather than starting fresh, which can take a considerable amount of time,” Crouch said. “I think that’s pretty much the standard no matter whether you’re talking a liquor license or nursing homes. It’s always easier sometimes to transfer an agreement or transfer the license, so to speak, rather than starting fresh.”

Crouch wasn’t optimistic that any of the center’s 150 jobs could be saved if the center closed.

“I’m strictly speculating at this point in time, but those jobs would probably disappear,” he said. “It’s obviously very concerning. Whether the current owner has other opportunities for them at some other facility I don’t know. I haven’t had any conversation or communication with the current owner.”

Crouch said he did not know the identity of the possible buyer.

It also was unclear Tuesday whether the potential buyer had been negotiating actively with the center’s current owner, Leatherstocking Healthcare.

“Leatherstocking Healthcare has been holding their cards close to their vest,” state Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, said in an email response to questions sent to him.

Asked whether there was anything the county, state or federal governments could do to save some of the 150 jobs that would be lost if the center closed, Bonacic wrote that government was limited in what it could do.

“Ultimately, this is a private sector operation,” he wrote. “What we can do at the state and federal level is to encourage the state to facilitate any potential sale that might save jobs.”

He pointed out that neither Leatherstocking nor Delaware County had asked for help.

“We are reaching out on our own, because we’re concerned about the healthcare and jobs,” he wrote. “We cannot control a private-sector operation, but the state and federal government could be helpful in any way possible.”