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COLONIE — The $70 million renovation and expansion of the Albany County Nursing Home is well underway and should be completed in 2020.
The 45-year-old building is in dire need of renovations, as any significant upgrades were put on hold while battles over the facility’s future played out with one side pushing for privatization and the other to keep it publicly owned and operated.
“If you think about where we were in 2012 and where we are in 2018 and how far we have come and the decisions we had to make … this nursing home is something we can all take pride in,” said County Executive Dan McCoy prior to a tour of the project’s progress on Thursday, Oct. 18. “We found common ground, how we can make something work for the tax payers and most importantly take care of our seniors.”
The nursing home was costing Albany County taxpayers nearly $20 million a year and McCoy, in an effort to offset the costs, proposed privatizing the facility. The Legislature staunchly opposed that idea and instead opted to renovate, and because of that, Medicaid reimbursement increased substantially and will continue to increase, McCoy said.
In addition, said Larry Slatky, the nursing home executive director, the federal government will pick up 90 percent of the renovation costs, which were initially projected to be $60 million.
“We are seeing an uptick in the reimbursement rates that are based on the improvements you make,” McCoy said. “As we continue to make improvements they will continue to go up.”
In this year’s proposed budget, $2.1 million is allocated for the nursing home, down significantly from the worst hemorrhaging of 2012-13 and down $1 million from this year. McCoy said in the next few years, he expects it to carry a fund balance rather than an expenditure.
The some 80 county workers at the facility also made concessions to help balance the books.
While the federal and state reimbursements are, of course, funded by taxpayer money, it is a bigger pot of money and will not directly impact local property taxes like the county budget.
The bottom line, officials said, the renovated, currently 250-bed facility on Albany Shaker Road will provide state-of-the-art care for the county seniors.
The project includes a new, 125-bed addition and a near complete gutting of the first floor where new rooms will be built. When complete, the facility will be more handicapped-accessible, have upgraded, welcoming common areas, a new fire-alarm system and new furnishings.
“The senior population is growing rapidly and the needs are great. The need for good placements in areas where you know they are going to get good care in an environment that is warm and welcoming to make the clients feel comfortable and happy as well as the families,” said Colonie Supervisor Paula Mahan. “It is the right thing to do. It is our responsibility to make sure the seniors are taken care of.”
Legislator Paul Burgdorf, R-Colonie, who was not on the body when they debated privatization said the Legislature “is committed to providing Albany County seniors with a dignified home and first rate professional and compassionate care.”
“Now that we have decided to own the nursing home, our immediate priority is to re-build the nursing home within our state approved reimbursable budget and give the nursing home administration the tools to operate with a first rate medical staff, physical plant and compassionate care,” he said. “Albany County in 2020 will have a $70+ million 250-bed state-of-the-art nursing home paid for with New York State funding, which administrators predict will not require any local tax dollars.”
Albany is not alone in facing the nursing home dilemma. Other counties across the state took the privatization route with varying results. Others have closed aged homes and built new ones, an option briefly discussed here. Others closed the homes and got out of the business entirely. And still others have done what Albany County is doing now, investing millions to bring an existing facility up to snuff and thereby increasing the reimbursement rate to make it work for the taxpayers and the seniors.
“This is the biggest need we have had,” Slatky said, while tipping his hat to home’s employees. “To renovate our nursing home and create an environment that will allow our staff to provide quality care with positive outcomes. I look forward to the project being completed so we can provide the quality of care seniors in this community deserve.”