Show of force: Advocates and opponents
of a new nursing home gather at the Albany County Legislature’s
of a new nursing home in Albany County score a minor victory
Monday, Albany County legislators Chris Higgins (D-District
6) and Lucille McKnight (D-District 2) were targeted with
dinnertime candlelight prayer vigils by small groups of protesters
in front of the legislators’ homes. These protests were organized
by SEIU 1199 to put pressure on the lawmakers to support the
construction of a new county nursing home.
Hundreds of fliers had been plastered throughout Higgins’
neighborhood in the days before the protest asking, “Where
will the frail and elderly go if there aren’t enough County
Legislators who vote to save our nursing home?” These fliers,
which were sponsored by United for Quality Care, an SEIU campaign,
urged people to call Higgins, as he “opposes the plan . .
. to improve home care and assisted living, along with building
a new [nursing] home.”
dismissed the protest, and the fliers, as misleading. In September,
Higgins, along with McKnight and three other legislators,
sent a letter to the chairman of the Legislature’s Nursing
Home Facilities Committee, Gary Domalewicz. In response to
the debate to determine if the county would move forward with
the construction of a new nursing home, or instead it will
adopt county Executive Mike Breslin’s plan to abandon institutional
care and invest in home-based care, Higgins et al. wrote:
“We must ask whether maintaining the county’s role as a direct
care provider is the best way to accomplish our goal of providing
essential and quality services to all persons need at the
lowest cost to the taxpayer. In order to assist the committee
members with their deliberations on this important matter,
we have composed questions found below. . . . We believe that
only when these questions are answered can the construction
of a new nursing home facility be justified.”
The letter listed 15 questions, such as: “Do concerns exist
with the trend of Medicaid reimbursement rates and how such
trends impact county finances? How many patients in ACNH could
be cared for in Assisted Living Programs or Assisted Living
Residences were such programs available? Should we accept
property tax increases to offset future increases in the cost
of operating a new facility? If yes, to what extent? If no,
what county expenditures should be eliminated or reduced?”
don’t understand how my colleagues can rush to form a decision
before they have all the facts,” Higgins said. “This is going
to be a very expensive decision either way. It’s not like
anyone even wants to wait and see what changes will happen
at the federal level with President Obama’s health-care reform
that is being debated in Congress. Why don’t we wait until
December to see what changes are happening at that level,
how it’s going to trickle down and effect local municipalities?
According to the executive’s budget, Albany County is facing
a 6-percent property tax increase in 2010, even after cutting
more than 100 jobs—74 from ACNH. According to Mary Duryea,
county spokeswoman, in 2011, the county faces an up-front
$25 million budget hole due to increasing pension costs, and
the loss of federal stimulus dollars and federal support for
the nursing home.
Currently, the executive estimates that a new nursing home
will cost $68 million to construct. Much of that expense will
be offset by state and federal dollars. However, Duryea pointed
out, the real cost of the nursing home is in its operating
expenses, which cost the county $18 million a year to operate,
or 30 percent of the property tax levy.
the county doesn’t take action to downsize the nursing home
in 2010, we will be looking at a budget gap of $25 million
in 2011,” Duryea said—a 34.7 percent increase from 2010’s
On Tuesday night, hundreds of people crowded into the Legislature’s
monthly meeting. The body was considering a resolution expressing
support for the construction of a new nursing home and directing
the executive to explore what size nursing facility the county
The resolution passed overwhelmingly.
Duryea said that the executive would consider the resolution,
and welcomed the opportunity to gather new information, however,
she cautioned, “We think that the right size is zero.”
Dr. Patrick Timmins (D- District 22) was one of the two votes
against the resolution. He said that he favors Breslin’s progressive
views toward long-term care, and would like to see the county
move away from institutional care.
support changing the system completely,” he said. “The problem
with building institutions is that they consume valuable resources.
Building a new nursing home is a step backward and not a step
forward. To me, it is an intellectual problem. When you build
an institution, the county has to fill more beds. The goal
should be to keep people in the community. The county’s focus
must be to do everything possible to keep people active members
of the community. It is better for the community and it is
better for the economy.”
This is an opinion shared by disability-rights activist Michael
Volker, who is disabled and needs a fully mechanized chair
to get around.
bigger this thing is, the harder it’s going to be for the
entire long-term care system,” Volker wrote in an e-mail.
“Building and filling that nursing home will drain resources
from all the other line items in the long-term budget. They
kept saying last night that it is not an either/or proposition.
But with finite resources, that’s exactly what it is going
to become. If both sides of the equation are going to be funded
adequately, and the county is going to be forced to generate
revenue in other ways in order to be able to cover all of
it, will taxes have to be raised?”
Higgins was critical of the resolution prior to the vote.
you read this resolution? Did you see how broad it is?” he
asked. “It is incredibly broad. All it says is we support
construction of a nursing home. Down the line, things could
go perfectly here or things could go drastically bad. And
if they go drastically bad, somebody could be stuck here with
their pants down around their ankles, having voted for a 20-percent
property tax increase or a 30-percent property tax increase.
And then everybody will be backtracking.”
Although he has yet to receive answers to any of his 15 questions,
Higgins voted in favor of the resolution. Not necessarily
in support of constructing a new home, he said, but in the
hopes of getting more information.
voted for the resolution because it authorizes the executive
to bring in experts,” Higgins said. “I wanted to get as much
information as we can to help the citizens of Albany.”
loose ends this week-