By JOE MAHONEY
The Daily Star
---- — COOPERSTOWN — Advocates for keeping the Otsego Manor as a county-owned nursing home say they have collected more than 1,000 signatures from people opposed to last month’s decision by county lawmakers to privatize the facility.
The petition drive was organized by Manor patient Claire Cardinale, with help from Maureen Culbert of East Springfield, a volunteer at the nursing home who contends the county Board of Representatives failed to adequately research alternatives to selling the 176-bed home to the highest “responsible” buyer.
Culbert said Tuesday that the petition — now holding 1,030 names — will be presented to county representatives at their Nov. 7 meeting in Cooperstown.
Before then, in another demonstration of opposition to the decision to sell the Manor, patients themselves will stage a protest outside the facility from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday, Culbert and Cardinale said.
Although only one member of the 14-member board voted against the resolution to privatize the Manor — Rep. Keith McCarty, R-Springfield — Culbert said she believes public pressure could force the panel to rethink the issue.
Of those who have signed the petition, Culbert said, “I think what they need to do now is to go out and get in touch with their county representatives and tell them: ‘This is not the way to proceed.’”
She said she has also started a Facebook page — “Save the Otsego Manor.”
The board’s decision has also sparked blowback in the form of a lawsuit filed by the Civil Service Employees Association, the union that represents more than 200 workers. The union argues the decision should be nullified based on alleged state Open Meeting Law violations by the board prior to the vote.
Cardinale argued the decision to privatize the Manor will injure the local economy, if it leads to workers seeing their salaries cut by the new operator or losing their jobs altogether. “This is going to lead to foreclosures and more people on food stamps and more people on assistance,” she said.
She said she and her fellow patients are squarely in the corner of the workers who see the board’s decision as an example of hastily decided public policy that will have negative consequences on elderly people and those with debilitating illnesses.
The county board, she said, should look into driving bed tax revenue — collected when people stay at hotels — to the Manor.
The board voted to sell the Manor after a financial analysis by county Treasurer Dan Crowell projected the taxpayer subsidy to the facility would balloon to some $6 million in two years as a result of a reduction in the state Medicaid reimbursement rate and rising labor and operating costs.
Told about the mounting support for the Manor, Rep. Katherine Stuligross, D-Oneonta, the chairwoman of the board’s Manor Committee, said: “I’m sorry, but we just have no real financial choice in this. Nobody disputes that it’s a good facility.”
She said the board’s goal is to have a “seamless” transition when the Manor is privatized so residents will not notice any significant differences in the level of care provided.
She also said she anticipates that the new operator will keep the current employees on staff and will allow patients to keep the rooms assigned to them.
Referring to the recent state-ordered closure of Countryside Care Center in Delhi — a facility that had formerly been operated by Delaware County before it was privatized — Stuligross said: “I know people at Countryside got taken to all sorts of places. But we are not Delaware County.”
The county seeks to line up a consultant to help the board find a private operator for the Manor. The deadline for applications to be submitted is today, and as of last week, several had been received, Stuligross said.
“We are a long way from an RFP (request for proposals) for selling the Manor,” she said. “First, we are going to hire the consultant so we do it properly.”
Culbert has continued to help as a Manor volunteer since her late mother, Evelyn Uihlein, passed away at the nursing home in 2009 at the age of 83.
She said the county representatives should be listening to the “pulse of the people” before making a decision that will impact hundreds of local families.
Rep. Rich Murphy, D-Town of Oneonta, said that with about 90 percent of county programs being mandated by the state, there are no county departments that could be cut so deeply that it would provide enough savings to keep the Manor operating.
As for the decision to see the nursing home to a private operator, Murphy said, “We are going to vet this thing as thoroughly as we possibly can so we can be sure we have the best caregivers for our people.”
McCarty said he has no complaints from his constituents regarding his vote in opposition to privatizing the Manor. “I’ve had a couple hundred people — wherever I go — thank me for doing that,” said McCarty, noting the Manor has been an important option for residents of the northern end of the county who need nursing home care.