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Feeling the Squeeze

Advocates say that Albany County is trying everything it can—and some things it shouldn’t—to comply with the Berger Commission’s “right-sizing” of its nursing homes


At the monthly meeting of the Albany County Legislature Tuesday (Oct. 9), June Maniscalco read from a prepared speech: “Just this week . . . I met the relative of an 81-year-old woman who lives in Ravena. This woman does not drive, and unfortunately had to take her husband from the hospital and put him a nursing home. The choices the hospital gave for nursing homes were two in Vermont, one in Massachusetts, and one in the Catskills. She chose the Catskills.”

She did so because the Catskills are the closest of her options, Maniscalco continued, but there still is no way for this woman to visit her husband unless someone will drive her.

Why couldn’t this woman find a home to place her husband in Albany County? Because, Maniscalco said, the woman can’t afford a private home, and because Albany County, which operates two nursing homes—Ann Lee and the Albany County Nursing Home—is accepting no new residents. Thanks to the Berger Commission, Albany County soon will have too many residents as it is. The commission mandated that by June 2008, the county must reduce its current number of resident beds from 314 to 250, a number that the director of the ACNH, Gene Larrabee, has faith will be reached or surpassed through the current freeze on admissions and, as he told Metroland this summer, “through natural attrition” [“Hello Nurse?” June 7].

Stories like Maniscalco’s are commonplace, circulated through the staff and residents of the two nursing homes, and retold by the close-knit Family Council, a group of friends and family members of those people who are cared for within the homes, of which Maniscalco is a member. Fellow Family Council members Renee Barchitta and Nancy Lane joined Maniscalco to speak before the Legislature. They said that it has become a gloomy joke within the homes: The residents just aren’t dying off fast enough.

The women went on to allege that this disparity between need versus supply has led to some disturbing trends.

Lane, whose mother is a resident of ACNH, alleged that an Albany County employee has been approaching dementia and Alzheimer’s patients at ACNH, asking them if they wouldn’t “rather go somewhere else.”

“There are four residents,” that she knows of, she said, “that have been approached three or four times. Needless to say, most days these people don’t know their own names. They are disturbing these people. It is making them hysterical.”

It is something her father, Walter Wajda, has seen many times.

“So what this guy does is, he will kneel down beside a person, and he will ask them if they want to leave, be shipped out to another nursing home or whatever,” said Wajda, whose wife suffers from Alzheimer’s and is a resident of the E Unit. “These people can’t be left to make this decision for themselves. Half the time they don’t know where they are or anything else. To me, this is just harassment.”

This happens, he claimed, without the employee first contacting the resident’s designated care provider.

“These people get very excited,” he said. “They don’t know what is going on.”

One man, Lane claimed, was told that he could go to a homeless shelter while he waited to find a residence.

“Nursing home staff is inquiring with residents who are mentally and physically competent about options that would offer less restrictive care,” said Kerri Battle, director of Communications for Albany County, in an e-mail interview. “Families of all residents are included in these considerations. Additionally, if the nursing home staff is approached by a resident and their family who inquire about other options, social workers are available to assist them in researching appropriate alternate types of care. These options may include assisted living facilities or community based services that allow residents achieve greater independence.”

“County Executive Mike Breslin has committed to providing a home to every resident that currently resides at the County’s nursing home facilities,” Battle continued. “Under no circumstances will any residents be asked to leave our nursing homes.”

For Barchitta and others on the Family Council, that is smoke and mirrors. Even if that is true, what about the people who aren’t in the county’s care yet, she asked, but need someplace to go? She claimed that she has spoken to nurses at Ann Lee who have told her that local hospitals are also feeling the squeeze from the lack of low-income beds for the elderly in the county. She was told that there are 50 people at Albany Medical Center and numerous people at St. Peter’s Heath Center who are waiting to be placed in a home. Both hospitals failed to comment in time for publication.

“Workers at Albany Med said it is an ongoing problem, and they have had to send people out of state,” Barchitta said. “The hospitals are frustrated.”

According to the Albany County Medicaid nursing-home roster, as of June of this year, nearly 60 county residents were living in nursing homes outside of New York state, while more than 500 were living outside of Albany County.

—Chet Hardin

What a Week

No Day in Court

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, who claims that CIA agents kidnapped him and brought him to Afghanistan where he was imprisoned and tortured without being charged with a crime. The Supreme Court stated that bringing the case to trial could compromise state secrets. The CIA denies any involvement in Masri’s abduction, though their practice of “extraordinary rendition”—the deportation for interrogation of suspected terrorists to countries that practice torture—is well known. Subsequent investigations in Europe have bolstered Masri’s version of events, and Germany has issued a warrant for the 13 CIA agents suspected in the abduction.

These Prizes Are the Gay-Bomb

An exhaustive study of sword-swallowing injuries, the extraction of vanilla flavoring from cow dung, the American reaction to a bottomless bowl of soup, and the effects of Viagra on jet lag in hamsters were among the winners at this year’s Ig Nobel Prizes. The awards, an obvious parody of the Nobel Prizes, are presented every year by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research to bizarre scientific endeavors that are humorous, yet thought-provoking. Other winners this year include a study of the word “the,” a study that found rats can’t distinguish between Japanese and Dutch when played backwards, and the U.S. military’s proposed development of a so-called “gay-bomb,” a pheromone-based chemical weapon that could be dropped on enemy soldiers causing them to become passive and horny. The military declined to accept their award.

Not a Dutch Problem, Anymore

The Dutch government revoked its promise to provide 24-hour security to former parliament member and best-selling author Ayaan Hirsi Ali this week. Hirsi Ali, a Dutch citizen and current U.S. resident, is an outspoken critic of Islam and its treatment of women, and has received multiple, credible death threats, including one staked to the chest of her slain friend and collaborator Theo van Gogh. Due to her high profile and high security risk, the cost to secure Hirsi Ali is around $2.8 million yearly, according to The Boston Globe, a sum she would be unable to pay despite the success of her autobiography, Infidel.

Says Who?

Two critics of Thomas McTygue come forward to allege that they were interviewed by FBI agents about the controversial DPW comissioner

Two of the fiercest critics of Sara toga Springs Department of Public Works Commissioner Thomas McTygue came forward this week to claim that they have been interviewed multiple times by the FBI about McTygue. David Bronner and Albert Madarassy both claim to have spoken to the FBI regarding McTygue’s relationship with developers, his claiming of a STAR exemption on a property that was not his residence, and various alleged civil-rights violations.

Madarassy, a former longtime DPW employee, had a falling out with McTygue in the early 1990s when he backed a candidate who was running against McTygue for commissioner. McTygue later tried to do away with Madarassy’s position in the DPW. Madarassy fought and kept his job, a position that still exists today.

Madarassy claims that he was initially contacted by the FBI in May or June.

“They asked several things,” he said. “They wanted to know about civil-rights violations in the DPW department, how DPW purchases equipment, they wanted to know about different contractors and their affiliations and how well they knew the commissioner.” According to Madarassy, in his FBI interview he detailed how DPW employees are told that if they want to be promoted they need to support the commissioner’s political agenda.

Madarassy further claims that the first agent he spoke to was assigned only to see if an investigation had any merit. Since then Madrassy said other agents have been involved in the case.

“What relationship do I have with developers?” asked McTyuge. “We make them do what is necessary for developments in this city. A lot of developers don’t like us. I don’t know what this guy is talking about. It is just an attempt to throw everything at the wall.”

McTygue said Madarassy has been involved in political campaigns against him for years. “There is no truth to the charges they are making. Nobody has been in the building asking to speak to me, and there have been no charges made against the department.”

Bronner, who has notoriously dogged McTygue at Saratoga Springs City Council meetings and has had the Saratoga Police Department called on him multiple times by McTygue and his brothers and allies, said that his multiple discussions with the FBI have focused on McTygue’s finances and relationship with developers.

“I have helped thousands and thousands of people, and then I have a handful of disgruntled people who are unhappy,” said McTygue, “and a wacko like Bronner who attacks me at council meetings and shouts, hollers, swears at me on the street.”

Although Madarassy and Bronner are the only two interviewees to come forward yet, Metroland has spoken to a number of current and former DPW employees who also claim to have been interviewed by the FBI. Those anonymous sources have also confirmed the names of agents and interview topics stated by Bronner and Madarassy.

—David King

Two Million Served

Food Pantries for the Capital District calls for help to combat hunger

“The most common thing we hear when someone calls looking for a food pantry is, ‘I never thought it was going to be me. I never thought I would be in this situation,’ ” said Lynda Schuyler, executive director of Food Pantries for the Capital District, a coalition of 45 food pantries that serve Albany and Rensselaer counties. “I don’t think we often consider the things that can throw people into that situation.”

The 28-year-old organization is calling on businesses and organizations in the Capital Region to start planning holiday food drives, because, according to Schuyler, “The money that we use to purchase food for the warehouse for this year is just about gone. We have a little bit left, but not enough. We need to supplement it with donated food.”

Inside the small warehouse attached to its office in Albany, where the organization stores staple goods, the shelves are running low. Some items found there are Cheerios, pasta sauce, and canned corn, all of which are used to supplement local pantries’ supplies. Baby formula and diapers are stacked to the ceiling as part of the organization’s Infant Needs Project. In an emergency, a food pantry can take supplies from the small warehouse until they are able to purchase their own order.

According to Schuyler, two million meals were served by local pantries in 2006, with the number increasing every year. “All of our pantries have gotten bigger and bigger; every year it’s a little more. If you go back 15 years, pantries were going through 50 or 60 cases of food a month. Now we have programs that are going through 3,000 pounds of food every other week. As the price of food goes up, the amount of people turning to food pantries goes up. That’s an absolute direct correlation.”

“We serve almost half of the meals to children,” said Schuyler. “Another 7 or 8 percent are elderly. At least 35 percent of adults are working full-time or have two jobs. If you stopped at your favorite coffee joint this morning on the way to work and went through the drive-through, if the person who hands you your coffee has children, he or she may visit a food pantry. These are people that you know.”

“It all gets kind of dry when you talk about how many pounds of food we’re delivering,” said Schuyler. “We’re doing it, maybe, to keep a 3-year-old out of a shelter during Christmas. A lot of us live with the illusion that we don’t know hungry people, and the reality is that the only difference between you and a person going to a food pantry is that you probably earned a little more money last week.”

The assistant director at Food Pantries, Matthew Lyttle, explained how the organization also helps to direct people towards different kinds of assistance. “We’re the main number for anyone in the city who is looking to find help with food, housing, shelter, clothing or something for their child.”

“Hunger is not a problem,” said Schuyler. “Hunger is a symptom. Nobody goes to a food pantry because they just got their dream job and everything is hunky dory. So what we try to do is provide the food pantry directors with all the information they need to move a person on and get them involved in other organizations in the area to get to the core problem. Then they don’t need the food pantry anymore.”

Half of all food donated to Food Pantries comes from the postal workers’ food drives, which occur during the spring and fall, said Schuyler. The fall drive takes place Oct. 19-20.

“The only thing folks need to do is go out, get what they’re going to donate, put it in a bag, hang it on the mailbox, and the mailman will take it away. That’s why it’s huge,” Schuyler explained. Acceptable items for donation are nonperishable goods that “you would give directly to a person with pride.”

—Jessica Best

Food Pantries for the Capital District will host Autumn Evening, an event to honor volunteers’ strong commitment to end hunger in the community, on Oct. 28. Tickets are $40, with half of the proceeds benefiting Food Pantries for the Capital District. Call 458-1176 until Oct. 24 for tickets.

Loose Ends

-no loose ends this week-

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