Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef -- faced with finalizing his budget proposal in the next four days -- announced a plan Friday to eventually sell the money-draining Summit Park health care facility in Pomona.
After weighing three options, including not selling at all or selling directly to a private operator, Vanderhoef decided that forming a Local Development Corporation (LDC) would be the best route, he said at a news conference at his office in New City.
The LDC would act as a third party to review operational costs and set up the sale of the taxpayer-subsidized Summit Park Nursing Care Center, and possibly the Summit Park Hospital, by 2014.
In the interim, the county would receive a portion of the sale price -- which has not yet been determined -- from private funds obtained by the LDC in order to help reduce the county budget deficit.
Vanderhoef had tried to create a Public Benefit Corporation to run the nursing home, but that strategy was rejected by the state. The LDC does not need state approval.
"It's a clean and simple way to move through the process to sell," Vanderhoef said of the new approach.
There are no scheduled layoffs for hospital employees, who are contracted until Dec. 31, 2013 with the Civil Service Employees of America (CSEA), Vanderhoef said. Staff can expect the same benefits they've been receiving.
But P.T. Thomas, president of Rockland's CSEA, isn't buying Vanderhoef's idea.
"If you break up the union, people will lose their jobs, their benefits, their longevity," Thomas said. "They will have layoffs and bring in very cheap labor. This plan is not going to save the county any money. It needs to stay as a county-run program."
As part of the analysis of the proposed sale, county officials will review a report titled "High Level Operations Assessment Summit Park Hospital" by the consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal Healthcare Advisory Group. The report will detail the costs involved in running Summit Park and offer savings suggestions, said Vanderhoef's spokesman, Ron Levine.
The hospital budget gap was $13 million in 2011 alone, Vanderhoef said.
Sale proceeds would go toward closing the county's budget gap, now estimated to be around $95 million. In his comments on Friday, Vanderhoef seemed to acknowledge that the sale of assets like Summit Park to meet the county's annual operating expenses might raise questions about the long-term viability of the county's fiscal strategy.
"One of the biggest issues the county faces, if not the biggest issue, the deficit, is that we need to, over a period of time, get rid of it," Vanderhoef said.
Although there isn't a deadline for voting on the proposal, County Legislator and Chairwoman Harriet Cornell (D-Rockland) said she hopes the Legislature will come to a decision "very rapidly".
"It's an interesting proposal," Cornell told Newsday.com Friday afternoon, after seeing Vanderhoef's plan. "Many of us care about the mission of the county nursing homes that often take care of people that others just won't take care of, whether it's because of finances or other reasons."
"I can just promise that there will be a complete examination of the pros and cons of this plan," Cornell said.
If county legislators pass the resolution for an LDC, the facility assets would be transferred to the LDC, then leased back to the county for $1. The LDC Board of Directors, comprised of four people appointed by Vanderhoef and three by the Legislature, would then work to find the best deal to sell the facility.
Vanderhoef has tried to get rid of Summit Park before. For his 2012 budget, he proposed to lay off about 550 workers and sell the facility, but the Democrat-controlled Legislature rejected the cuts.
"The important part of it is that we take action on Summit Park," Vanderhoef said. "The rating agencies have said, in addition to bringing the deficit down, we need to take action on the Summit Park Hospital and nursing home because they know it's a continual drain on our finances."
Earlier this month, amidst a looming overall $95 million county budget deficit, Vanderhoef announced he will not seek re-election next year, after nearly 20 years of public service.