By Jim Krencik
Medina Journal-Register — ALBION — Orleans County is moving forward with plans to transfer The Villages of Orleans Health and Rehabilitation Center to a new local development corporation that would market the county-owned nursing home for sale to a private enterprise.
Legislators approved the immediate creation of the Orleans County Health Facilities Corporation and the transfer of the nursing home, its assets and employees to the new entity by a five-to-one vote Wednesday.
The board’s action followed an hour and 15 minutes of pleas from nursing home staff and relatives of current and former residents in opposition to the transfer plan. While calls to forestall the vote or reverse course completely did not alter the board’s vote, legislators expressed grief over their decisions.
“I cried a lot of over this. I’m torn,” said Legislator Henry Smith Jr., who voted for the transfer along with Callard and Legislators Bill Eick, Kenneth Rush and Lynne Johnson. “But we must do what’s best for the county.”
While Legislator George Bower said he couldn’t support the transfer, he noted that the facility’s ongoing financial difficulties would have imperiled the future of a county-owned municipality.
“We all want to keep it county owned, but there might be a time when we’d have to do thing we don’t want to do,” Bower said, daring not to reference past public fears that the facility faced closure.
County Administrative Officer Chuck Nesbitt repeated Wednesday that the Villages will have a $2.4 million operating deficit this year, an issue that he didn’t see being lessened by the state or federal governments.
Legislature Chairman David Callard has been designated as the leader of the new entity, which will manage the transfer of The Villages to a private operator.
Callard said following the meeting that he intends to publicly announce the board’s membership in the near future. The full transfer of the facility expected to take at least two years.
More than 80 residents packed into the legislature’s chambers Wednesday, with dozens more standing outside in a hallway. Many wore neon stickers saying “Save the Villages/reverse course” as they voiced opposition to private ownership of a treasured public asset.
“The Villages is a model for what our county can do ... because we own it and because we care for it,” Reverend Larry Eastlack of the Oakfield United Methodist Church said.
The mass outpouring celebrated the quality of care, the feeling of community and the memories of relatives and friends who enjoyed their experiences at the Albion nursing home after suffering at private facilities.
Mary Lee Knights of Ridgeway was overcome with emotions as she explained the “night and day” experiences her late uncle, Edgar Trombley, had at a private nursing home before coming to the county nursing home. Knights said the private facility did not offer him food that he could easily eat but the Villages provided the extra level of care.
“He gained 22 lbs. in that first month after moving,” Knights said. “I don’t want to end up in a facility like that other one.”
Kathy Ludwick of Albion and many other speakers noted that they saw their personal contributions to the operation of the nursing home, which were includes on this year’s county tax bills; and would gladly pay more if the funds went to maintaining the nursing home.
”The care was marvelous, the people were marvelous,” Ludwick said in described her late mother’s time at The Villages. “If we can’t give back to our older people that’s sad.”
Legislators said they shared the love and admiration for the nursing home’s staff and residents, but had to act in the face of growing budgetary deficits.
”We take to heart what was said here today,” said Eick, who noted that he and Rush had both rehabbed at The Villages following knee surgeries. “We understand what you’re saying, (but we know) what the state and federal governments can’t do for us.”
Contact reporterJim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.Contact reporter Jim Krencik at 798-1400, ext. 6327.