Public supports Pleasant Valley

B ill Jones walked briskly to the front of the Whitehall High School auditorium and told his story.

He told the audience how his mother was diagnosed with cancer and described the toll the disease had taken on her mind. The experience would have been unbearable, he said, if not for the county-run hospice program.

“I’m an advocate of hospice. It’s been the only ray of light in five and a half months of nightmares,” Jones said.

“My family owes a debt of gratitude and I want to say to thank you from the bottom of my heart to hospice.”

Jones was one of more than 50 people who attended a meeting regarding the potential sale of the Pleasant Valley Infirmary and other county-operated health care services on Tuesday night.

The meeting, which was attended by 10 county supervisors, county attorney Roger Wickes, and moderated by county administrator Kevin Hayes, was meant to help gauge the public’s opinion on what the county should do with the infirmary and other services.

And with one or two exceptions, those who spoke shared a common sentiment: the services are important and shouldn’t be for sale.

Patty Goyette, vice president of the local CSEA, said PVI is not a business, it’s a service.

“If we can pay for our garbage and our roads, we ought to be able to pay for our parents and disabled,” she said.

Goyette also expressed concern that selling the services to a private company from out of the area could result in the loss of personalized, home-town care, and worried that a downstate company wouldn’t treat its employees as well.

Wayne Senecal, a longtime resident of Whitehall, said the county was misguided because it was only considering the bottom line.

“Lots of people don’t have the resources to go somewhere else. What happens to those people when you sell?”

Harvey Rosenthal, who has been working with people with disabilities for 36 years, said he has seen firsthand what happens to health care services when they become private businesses. He said if a private health care provider is encountered with the choice between a patient with Medicaid and one with private insurance, the person on Medicaid is often the one who loses.

Phil Berke, a lifelong Granville resident and judge, supported that assertion, saying he has often heard private providers described as “cherry pickers,” and that dealing with a private company or the New York State Department of Health will not be as easy as dealing with the county.

“You can’t depend on the NYS Dept. of Health to regulate a private company.”

Although he described himself as conservative, he said government has to be involved with certain things and the health of our elderly and disabled should be one, if the county can afford it.

He said the Washington County Board of Supervisors needs to be concerned with the quality and access of care and not the highest bid alone and that a decision needs to be made quickly.

Former Granville supervisor and Board of Education president Beverly Tatko was one voice in favor of selling the county-run health services.

“Money does matter. Taxes matter. I’ve watched things change and it’s not for the better,” she said. “We have to figure out what’s best for everybody in Washington County. What’s best for the whole county?

“This affects our future. Our kids are going to have to pay for the debt we put them in.”

Kathy McIntyre, a public health nurse for 24 years, said if the decision is made to sell the facility that the supervisors need to take a “good look at for-profits versus nonprofits.”

The Board of Supervisors has been discussing the sale of the facility and other health services for more than two years.

Those in favor of its sale have argued that the county could realize a substantial savings from selling the facility. Projections indicate that PVI and county run home health care services could cost taxpayers roughly $3 million per year starting in 2012.

In April of 2011, the board voted to put out requests for proposals for the possible sale and have received a number of offers in the intervening months. The proposals included two bid packages.

The first includes the Pleasant Valley Nursing facility, which includes a 122-bed nursing facility, a 33-bed adult home and a 24-person adult day program on 99 acres in Argyle, for which Centers for Specialty Care offered $2.44 million.

The second package includes the home health-care component of the system, staffed by county employees. The department includes a long term home-care program and a hospice program.

Glens Falls Hospital and Fort Hudson Health Systems presented a joint bid of $732,000 for that portion.

National Health Care Associates Inc. offered $6.56 million for both packages.

Two other bids were also made, but were later withdrawn.

A second public hearing was scheduled Wednesday in Greenwich and another will be held at 7 p.m. tonight at the Hudson Falls high school cafeteria.

The subject will certainly come up in discussion at the Board of Supervisors meeting at 10 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, in Fort Edward, but Bob Shay, the Public Health Committee chairman, has said he does not expect the board to take any action until its March 16 meeting.

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