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Laboring Over Costs

Mike Conners and Mike Breslin come dangerously close to agreeing on nursing-home expense issue

In what is becoming a regular event, Albany County Comptroller Mike Conners held a press conference Monday to discuss new findings in a study of the operations of the Albany County Nursing Home. This will be the third such study, with the county executive having commissioned one last year and the legislature recently approving $25,000 for a study of its own.

Why did Conners decide to spend about $7,000 to contract this study with Illinois-based Revere Healthcare?

“Back in October when the legislature said that they were going to build a nursing home, I said, ‘Uh-oh, I wonder if we’ll have the revenue to pay the bond.’ So I went out through our financial advisor,” Conners said. “and basically, I got these guys to do this analysis.”

The report, which compared operating costs at the ACNH to other nursing homes, including private, for-profit homes in the surrounding communities, found that nearly $9 million annually could be saved in county subsidy. How? By constructing a new 250-bed nursing home, and wresting the oversight of the new facility away from the county executive and placing it with an authority or outside organization.

Establishing this new authority would take legislative action.

The single largest operational cost for the home, the study found, and the place for most potential savings, was in staffing. That came as no surprise to the executive’s office, according to Mary Duryea, the spokeswoman for Executive Michael Breslin. According to her, 82 percent of all expenses at the nursing home are staffing costs.

It was an issue that the executive’s office attempted to deal with during last year’s budget negotiations, she pointed out, when the executive proposed slashing 74 positions from the nursing home. The legislature balked at the option, and left the positions intact.

“What could be cut that could save money that is not personnel?” Duryea asked. The subsidy for a 250-bed nursing home in 2015 would be $25 million with the same number of staff, operated the same way we do today. In 2008, it was $18 million. “Plus, when you look at the nursing homes in the region, we have more staff.”

In all other ways, she said, Albany was in line with other counties in terms of cost.

“Our numbers aren’t inconsistent with Conners’ that we could cut $9 million of nursing home subsidy. We could cut, and we’ve tried to cut, but the legislature doesn’t approve positions being cut,” Duryea said.

“It’s easy to say that the biggest problem is labor, but that’s wrong—it’s the lack of commitment and the lack of management,” Conners said, that has led to the bloated subsidy. Conners argued that Breslin long ago abandoned the responsibility of running a county nursing home, instead opting to begin a slow, deliberate process to shut it down. This intention, according to Connors, has led directly to the mismanagement that has driven the subsidy higher than that of all of Albany’s neighboring counties.

It is not that the cost of labor is too high, Conners argued, it is that the level of revenue is too low.

“It was Breslin who applied to reduce the bed count before the Berger Commission came out, and testified in favor of the report that called for the county to reduce its bed licensing number by 345,” Conners said. “The Breslin administration voluntarily gave up 345 bed licenses in the last several years. That’s why the labor costs are too high. That’s why so many people are being shipped out of Albany County to other counties.”

“Because of the management of that nursing home we have hundreds of people that we could have served, and were licensed to serve that could have been served in Albany County at a lower cost for the taxpayer and at a better level of service,” Conners said. “We are a three-star facility versus a one-star facility.”

Conners said that, in addition to constructing a new home, and establishing an authority to run it, the county should also “apply for long-term hospital beds,” Conners said. “We got hundreds of people shipped out of county, and out of state. We could bring them back and treat them in our nursing home. And generate revenue at the same time.”

—Chet Hardin

A Call for Justice

Albany Common Council passes resolution urging that terrorism trial be reopened


Activists marched to Eagle Street in Albany Monday demanding justice for Muslims that they say were wrongfully accused and imprisoned—namely Albany residents Mohammed Hossain and Yassin Aref, who were arrested in 2004 as the result of counterterrorism sting operations.

Members of the advocacy groups that led the march, including the Muslim Solidarity Committee and Project SALAM (Support and Legal Advocacy for Muslims), as well as individual activists and families of imprisoned Muslims, filed inside City Hall to support a resolution introduced by Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro. The resolution calls for the Justice Department to reopen and review all convictions of Muslims prosecuted on terrorism-related charges during the Bush years. The targeting and entrapment of Muslims that ultimately results in prosecution is a practice that has been labeled by advocates as “preemptive prosecution.”

The meeting’s public comment period was extended until 9 PM, to provide time for the numerous speakers, many of whom expressed personal and emotional pleas to pass the resolution. After hearing these comments, Calsolaro requested the council vote on the resolution immediately, rather than in two weeks, as was scheduled. The resolution was passed by the council in a 10 to 0 vote, with four of the members voting present.

In 2006, after an intricate setup by an FBI informant, Hossain, one of the founders of Albany’s Masjid As-Salam mosque, and Aref, the mosque’s imam, were convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison for allegedly conspiring with a terrorist organization to acquire a rocket launcher, as well as money laundering.

Lejla Duka, the 12-year-old daughter of one of the men convicted for conspiring to stage an attack against U.S. military personnel in Fort Dix, N.J., spoke passionately about how difficult life has become for her and her family as a result of her father’s imprisonment.

“This whole case was a lie,” she said.

The 2005 trial of Aref and Hossain was largely affected by “secret evidence” including wiretapping, according to Kathy Manley, one of Aref’s attorneys. Manley said that she believes the judge’s view of the case was clouded by this evidence, as he later told the jury that there were valid reasons to why the FBI targeted Aref.

“And that made the jury afraid to acquit him,” said Manley. “This would have been an automatic reversal in any other case, but not this one.”

Manley said that she believes the court did not handle Aref and Hossain’s case properly or ethically.

“It was very clear that this warrantless wiretapping program was used,” she said, “and we believe that if we had seen that evidence, we believe there would be a lot of things they got wrong.” Manley cited the prosecution’s mistranslation of the Kurdish word for “brother,” mistaking it for “commander,” which is a “huge discrepancy,” she said. Because of that, she said she assumes there were similar translation and factual errors made within their evidence.

This was not an uncommon practice during the years following the 9/11 attacks, and supporters from various parts of the country spoke to the council, recounting similar stories of Muslim entrapment.

Calsolaro’s resolution was precipitated by a report released by the inspector general in July 2009 calling for a comprehensive review of President Bush’s surveillance program.

“We hope that [the Justice Department] will follow their own inspector general’s report,” said Manley. “And I think a lot of people would be found innocent, including Yassin Aref and Mohammed Hossain.”

“This is the inspector general of the United States of America and the committee that was formed saying that these cases need to be reopened,” said Calsolaro, “because the evidence was not given to the defendants and it was not given to the accused. This is what America is built on—our justice system, our country of laws where everyone should be treated equally.”

The council members who voted “present”—Frank Commisso Jr., Leah Golby, Daniel Herring, and Joseph Igoe—collectively agreed that they did so not because they weren’t in support of the resolution, but because they wanted more time to review and standardize some of its language.

Councilwoman Catherine Fahey expressed the importance of the resolution despite its minor structural flaws.

“It’s very important for this body to weigh in,” she said. “It’s very important that we, the people, send a message to our United States representatives telling them that we see something truly wrong, and we need to change it.”

“Let’s not focus on a perfect resolution,” said Councilman Lester Freeman. “Let’s focus on a perfect society.”

Advocates say that the passing of this resolution is just the beginning of what needs to be a nationwide effort to bring justice to wrongly accused Muslims.

“We’re just really hoping that the Justice Department will pay attention to this,” said Manley, “and that other cities will pass resolutions like this, because there are a lot of cases—including ours—where we feel like people got treated very unfairly by the courts.”

—Elizabeth Knapp

That’s My Habitat, and It Needs Protection

Photo: Chet Hardin

Bucksaw (Bucky) T. Beaver, the lead spokesmammal for New York state’s wildlife, made an appearance at the state Capitol Wednesday to urge members of the state Assembly to “avoid cuts in the already-beleaguered Environmental Protection Fund.” According to a statement issued by the We Love New York environmental campaign, “While the NYS Senate has proposed an Environmental Protection Fund of $222 million (the same amount approved last April), the Governor proposed only $143 million and the Assembly $168 million.”





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