The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

January 23, 2014

Manor bidder: Utica home still lacks state's approval

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The owner of a company that is the high bidder for Otsego Manor confirmed Wednesday that the firm has yet to win state Health Department approval to operate a Utica nursing home it acquired from a bankruptcy proceeding more than two years ago.

But Joseph Zupnik, the chief executive officer of Focus Ventures of Rockland County, also stated in response to questions posed by The Daily Star: “I don’t anticipate having issues like this with Otsego Manor.”

Zupnik said he didn’t need to immediately file an application for a state certificate of need to run the Focus Rehabilitation and Nursing Home in Utica because he was appointed the receiver of the home after acquiring it in 2011 amid a bankruptcy proceeding.

The Utica home had been rated as one of the worst-run nursing homes in the United States before his company acquired it, he said.

Because it took some time to iron out some of the problems the home was facing, he said, it would have been too risky to apply earlier for the certificate, as it could have led state officials to trim the number of patients authorized at the home.

“We could have filed the CON (certificate of need), but it would have been declined,” said Zupnik. “My professionals were advised by people in the (Health) Department that without the necessary financial support the facility needs to generate on its own it wouldn’t be a good idea” to put in the application.

Filing for the certificate of need earlier, he added, “could have put the facility and its residents in harm’s way. We didn’t want to put ourselves and our residents in that position.”

He said his company has now begun to prepare to file for the certificate of need, and it is expected the application will be sent to the Health Department this year.

A Health Department spokesman, James O’Hare, confirmed that the agency is anticipating that Focus will be sending in the application.

Questions surrounding the Focus management of the Utica home have shot into the forefront in recent days after The Daily Star reported that three members of the local development corporation charged with selling the Manor are leaning toward a rival bidder it is offering $3.5 million less than the $18.5 million Focus has said it is willing to pay for the county nursing home.

One of those backing VestraCare, which owns a nursing home in Johnson City, is William Dornburgh, a retired banker from Cooperstown. He has questioned whether Focus has the financial stability to run the 174-bed Manor in a way that does not reduce the quality of care to its residents.

Dornburgh said Wednesday he spoke to Zupnik on the telephone for 46 minutes on Tuesday night and continues to have concerns. He declined to elaborate on his specific concerns, saying the balance sheets and other data offered by the bidders is being kept confidential.

Dornburgh said he has also asked Otsego County Treasurer Dan Crowell to provide guidance to the seven-member local development corporation. The organization was created by the Board of Representatives last year for the sole purpose of marketing and selling the Manor.

The county board did not appoint Crowell, the county’s top fiscal officer, to the local development corporation. Because he is not one of the seven trustees serving on the local development corporation, Crowell said, he has limited access to the financial data before the panel.

Although the VestraCare bid of $15 million for the Manor is well below the Focus offer, Zupnik said he has no plans to try to lower the sum he would pay,