Letter to the Editor: Change is necessary in Sullivan County

To the editor:

 I’m tired of the constant spin on this Legislature’s efforts by those who oppose the path we’ve charted with the Care Center at Sunset Lake and Certified Home Health Agency (CHHA). They peddle falsehoods as eagerly as they accuse me and my colleagues of the same:

  • That we haven’t given the public and fellow legislators enough time to think this through.

How much time is enough? Time enough to prevent any real progress, because they want things to stay the same? Time enough for legislators to waffle, even though they had the resolution for six weeks, were individually polled by me if they understood it, and received two separate emails asking for their thoughts?

  • That we only care about the money, not the people involved.

Again, untrue. In fact, I’d say we’re far more objective on this matter than those who are receiving or providing the care we offer through these agencies. We very much care, but we aren’t so involved that we can’t take a step back and look at the whole picture rationally and reasonably.

  • That public care is better than private care.

Really? One is always better than the other? Way too simplistic, if you ask me.

Whether you’re a citizen seeking care for a loved one or a government official seeking the best outcome for your community, you’ve got to do your research and not make baseless assumptions and generalizations. I’ve done my homework on the Care Center and CHHA, which is why I continue to advocate for turning over the administration of both to a professional management company. I don’t buy into the lie that private care cannot compare with public care.

First, some facts: 1. We continue to lose a million dollars a month on Care Center operations alone. 2. Costs are rising, and if we had included those costs in the 2021 Tentative County Budget, taxpayers would be staring at a double-digit tax hike. 3. Despite the increasing amounts of money we’ve dedicated to these arms of County government, our quality of care is not anywhere near where it should be.

Take a look at www.medicare.gov/care-compare. At two out of five stars (below average), the Care Center’s Quality of Resident Care is the lowest of all four nursing homes in Sullivan County (Garnet Health Medical Center-Catskills and Roscoe both rate the highest, while Achieve is a full star higher than we are). This, despite the fact that both Achieve and Roscoe’s Staffing rating is lower than ours.

As for the CHHA, the same federal rating system ranks us at just 2.5 out of 5 stars in Quality. The CHHA that serves neighboring Delaware County – which is more similar to us than any other nearby county in NYS – comes in at 3.5 stars in Quality, again a full star above us. (Oh, and by the way, they’re a privately-run CHHA.)

Our research, too, has shown that 10 years ago the CHHA was doing 10,000 visits a year, but now that’s down to 6,500. Our population hasn’t gone down in that time. In fact, our aging population has gone up. So how is everyone getting proper care if visits have dropped by 35%?

The current state of these agencies is neither a reflection nor an indictment of the staff. It’s a direct reflection on the leadership who had been responsible for that facility over the past five years.

The Sullivan County Charter sets forth that Legislative Committees are responsible for the management and operation of departments under their charge. Working through Commissioners and Department Heads, the Legislature must set a course for the department, establish goals and measure outcomes. Clearly, this leadership has been lacking over the past five years and has resulted in the predicament now faced by our Care Center and CHHA.

Despite their proclamations that I have not afforded an opportunity for discourse regarding the disposition of these entities, the reality is that, as a Legislature in general and as the Chair, this issue has been all-consuming over the past seven months. During that time I have spent countless hours gathering objective data, speaking to industry experts and learning to distinguish first-rate facilities from “also-rans.”

Anyone who has taken the time to investigate the data would be led to the same conclusion: that the time for this County to save these operations passed years ago and that it is now essential to install seasoned operators in order to change the course and fortunes of these entities. To do otherwise would merely prolong the inevitable – at the cost of our most vulnerable citizens, who would be forced to continue to endure inferior quality of care, a course I am not about to endorse.

Change is tough. But it’s also necessary. If nothing changes, then nothing changes. In other words, advocating for the status quo simply means you’re OK with higher taxes and inferior care.

Not me.

I’ve said from the beginning that I want three things to happen with the Care Center and CHHA: 1. Improve care. 2. Protect taxpayers. 3. Preserve jobs. And I’m not going to continue losing $1 million a month and spend an additional $250,000 just to sit around for 9-12 months for a consultant to tell us what we already know – that we need active, engaged management, freeing our existing County leaders to focus on other, just-as-critical issues.

Arguing against that says to me you have an ulterior motive that does not take all three of those points into account. Why advocate for poorer care at a higher cost? Hey, maybe I’m new at this, but that’s just a plain schizophrenic point of view.

We can do better. The citizens of this County deserve it, and I won’t stand for anything less.

Robert A. Doherty
Chairman & District 1 Legislator
Sullivan County Legislature

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