The Washington County Board of Supervisors approved the sale of the Pleasant Valley nursing home and most of its Public Health Department on Friday, all but guaranteeing the privatization of both entities.
The board also approved a number of measures that will reward staff members who stay on through the privatization process.
The county board approved the sale of Pleasant Valley to Centers for Specialty Care and the privatization of Public Health’s Certified Home Health Aide, Hospice and Long-Term Care by a 14-3 vote.
Greenwich Supervisor Sara Idleman, Cambridge Supervisor William Watkins and Bob Henke, supervisor of the town of Argyle, where Pleasant Valley is located, voted against the measure.
Following Friday’s vote, the board took steps to encourage employees of the Public Health Department not to leave for other jobs. The department has been strapped for employees after privatization talks earlier this year caused a number of employees to leave.
The board approved an $180,000 retention program for nonunion employees, some of whom could be facing layoffs. The program, which was approved by a 13-0 margin, would see employees of Pleasant Valley and Public Health who stay throughout privatization process receive a year’s worth of vacation and sick time the county must buy back from them.
The county is also discussing a similar incentive plan for its unionized employees.
Although county attorney Roger Wickes said earlier this month he expects HCR to hire a “vast majority” of staff, something that has happened in other counties that privatized their health divisions, it is likely some employees will lose their jobs.
The county has been discussing the privatization of the Public Health Deparment and Pleasant Valley, which are costing county taxpayers millions of dollars, for nearly a year.
Pleasant Valley is running at a $3 million deficit and Public Health is expected to cost the county more than $700,000 by year’s end.
But opponents argue that the sale could push out people who can’t afford the cost of private care.
Idelman, who has consistently spoken out against the sale, said she believes the county is making a huge mistake.
“In an effort to streamline government, which isn’t a bad idea, the effort to streamline is coming on the back of county employees and our most vulnerable citizens.”
“The county is supposed to be a safety net for people who need it,” she said.
Proponents of privatization, while hopeful that won’t happen, admit it’s a bit of an unknown.
“We might be up here in a few years saying Sara was right,” said Brian Campbell, Hebron’s supervisor and the county budget officer. He compared Idelman to former Hampton Supervisor Walt Perry, who was against the county-owned transfer stations, another service the county is hoping to privatize. “I certainly hope that’s not the case.”
Centers for Specialty Care will pay $2.4 million for Pleasant Valley, a 122-bed nursing home in Argyle.
Despite approving the sale of Pleasant Valley, it may take as long as a year for Centers for Specialty Care to take over. The company had 60 days following Friday’s approval to survey the nursing home for any structural and environmental flaws.
HCR Home Care will pay $550,000 for the Public Health divisions.
HCR could be running the three public health divisions within a couple of months. The purchase agreement includes staffing and management clauses that will keep the department staffed until the state Department of Health approves the deal.
The county will pay HCR $10,000 per month to manage the divisions, under the agreement, and would help re-staff the department.
Although the board has approved the sale of Pleasant Valley, there will be at least one more county board vote in December after the public is given an opportunity to express their opinion on the matter.
Supervisors will also have to pass a local law because the sale of the nursing home includes county-owned land.
The public hearing on the local law will he held at the next meeting of the full board on Dec. 21.
It’s expected the sale will be formally approved after the meeting, but it’s possible the public’s participation could affect the process.