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  • Rich Klein


MONTICELLO - County Legislature Chair Rob Doherty today said the Sunset Lake Local Development Corporation (LDC) "controls the destiny of the Care Center" in Liberty and that the LDC will submit the names of three finalist companies to the Legislature on January 11.

Speaking in a video message released today, he said the Legislature will then select one company from the three that will make the Care Center "more efficient."

The lease of the Care Center (and Certified Home Health Agency), known as CHHA, will be for the next 20 years, he said. On July 16, the Legislature passed a resolution that said:

"The transfer of title and/or a leasehold of up to ninety-nine years from the County to the Corporation shall be subject to the County’s reserved leasehold interest in the Facility for continued operation thereof by the County, such leasehold interest to be memorialized within a lease agreement by and between the County and the Corporation for a term of up to 20 years..." It's unclear at press time if State law permits the leasing of a County facility for two decades straight.

The next full meeting of the County Legislature is January 28, which appears to be the first possible date for Doherty to put up a resolution formalizing the lease agreement with the winning company unless he calls a Special Meeting before that.

(Neither the Legislature or the LDC has revealed the list of companies that put in proposals, but one of them is still believed by multiple sources to be The Grand Healthcare System, as first reported by The SullivanTimes. Jeremy Strauss, CEO of The Grand, confirmed his company's interest in an earlier interview with this media outlet. He is also chairman of the Board of Camp HASC in Parksville).

Doherty announced that the five-member LDC will be meeting with two companies each on January 8th and January 11th but did not provide any more details about what those meetings will entail. At the December 18 meeting of the LDC, however, none of the members made any mention of meetings with any finalist companies. And, in the middle of a pandemic that has stopped family visitations to the ACC, it's unclear how these companies will be in a position to tour the facilities in the next few weeks.

The LDC is supposed to operate independently of Doherty, the Legislature and County Attorney Michael McGuire - but there have been multiple examples in recent months of the County making critical announcements about the Care Center/CHHA future rather than the LDC. That certainly was the case with Doherty's announcement today. In fact, at the LDC's December 18 meeting,

Jeffersonville attorney Bill Chellis, vice chair of the LDC, made a firm point about the LDC's need for independence from the County Legislature.

"The Legislature does not have authority or final say other than to offer advice to the LDC ," Chellis said. His comments were in response to a discussion at the December 18 meeting in which Legislator Nadia Rajsz - who doubles as a member of the LDC - brought forward the idea of three memorandums of understanding (MOU'S) between the Legislature and the LDC. The MOU's were originally proposed by Legislator Ira Steingart. The status of the draft MOU's could not be confirmed at press time.

Chellis said it doesn't matter which company, if any, that the Legislature picks because "we are an independent body and in that independence, free from political manipulation, we are the ones who have to make that decision." He said that as McGuire sat in the room and has been present at every LDC meeting, acting as if he is an LDC member. In addition, it was McGuire, not the LDC, who brought in the law firm Harris Beach to draft the RFP that would be circulated to interested parties. The Legislature has also not officially authorized any work (by resolution) conducted by Harris Beach thus far.

The Request For Proposal process for management of the Care Center/CHHA began in October and were due back to the County in mid-November. At least one of the six companies that reportedly showed interest has recently backed out since the Legislature, at least verbally, has now expressed the view that neither the Care Center or CHHA can be sold. But the word "sale" remains in multiple legally-binding documents, despite community activists and some legislators urging McGuire to fix the language. It has not happened.

Doherty today railed against the deficits that the Care Center has incurred in recent years but insisted that quality care is still important. "We want the care to go has to be a top issue," Doherty said about the Legislature transferring the assets to the LDC and management to a new company.

But nearly a thousand residents have protested in a petition submitted to the Legislature a few months ago - and others in person on a regular basis - to prevent the lease or sale of the Care Center and CHHAA. They argue, in part, that the quality of care would most certainly decrease under a private management company, whoever is selected. One of their key messages and one that has been repeatedly echoed by Legislator Luis Alvarez and Ira Steingart - is that the Care Center and CHHA are not intended to be a profit center for the County but as a critical healthcare service to the community.

A group of community activists that includes both employees of The Care Center/CHHA and relatives of residents there have also lobbied passionately for the Legislature to remove the word "sale" from a series of legally binding documents, including a pair of resolutions concerning the creation of the LDC and the draft lease agreement. Legislator Nadia Rajsz, chair of the Legislature's Health & Family Services Committee, has also been outspoken about this issue. Rajsz is the only member of the Legislature to also be seated on the LDC. Early on, she recommended that the County stop the process of a lease or a sale, and instead bring in a healthcare management consultant that might be capable of correcting the financial and other issues there.

It's also unclear at press time if the Department of Health (DOH) will take any action to undo the December 4 asset transfer of the Care Center/CHHA since State Senator Jen Metzger told Doherty and McGuire in November that the DOH must first be informed of any change in management of the CHHA and must also sign off on it. McGuire has said publicly that Metzger is wrong. He said on December 18 that the LDC owns the real property only at this point but does not need certification from the DOH since the LDC is not operating the facility.

Cat Scott, a leader of "We Stand With The Care Center at Sunset Lake," whose mother is a resident of the facility, tonight told The SullivanTimes that news of a 20-year lease of the facility took her by surprise.

"I am shocked and I wouldn't be surprised if other legislators were unaware of the 20-year lease," she said. "It's never been mentioned in public to my recollection. And that's an important piece of the process that many of us have been criticizing all along."

In another key part of Doherty's video message today, that included Vice Chair Michael Brooks, Doherty explained a recent resolution that will authorize $3.75 million in bonding for the paving of some 30 miles of the county's roads.

"New legislators (Doherty, Brooks, George Conklin III and Nick Salamone, Jr. ) don't like the bonding concept," Doherty said. "We'd rather pay as we go but unfortunately in the tough year we were in, we had to bond again this year. "

He credited Legislator Alan Sorenson for negotiating a compromise between bonding at $4 million, a figure that Legislator Joe Perrello argued passionately for, and the figure that was approved at $3.75 million. "Legislator Joe Perello wanted to bond four million, I wanted to bond three million," Doherty said.

Doherty added the County will be receiving "a massive amount of money" from the federal government to the tune of $2.8 million to fix East Broadway in Monticello, plus an additional $2.6 million in CHIPS funding, which comes from Albany. He said the County has also placed $700,000 into the 2021 budget for road treatments to prepare for the following year's repairs.

Below are some photos of recent demonstrations at the Government Center as well as meetings inside where the future of The Care Center and CHHA has been discussed since July.

Above: Lou Setran, head of the Adult Care Center's Family Council, confers with Doherty.

One of The Grand Healthcare System's facilities, in Island Park, New York (Long Island)


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