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Lawmakers to push nursing home issues

LITTLE VALLEY -- Cattaraugus County lawmakers want to stay ahead of the coming statewide move to shutter nursing homes with low occupancy. They will send staffers to Niagara Community College Monday to testify at the first of two regional hearings leading to closing decisions later this year.

Many of the legislators who attended a Strategic Planning Committee meeting Wednesday said they intend to write letters to the regional advisers to the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century. The commission is expected to make recommendations for closings in December.

County Administrator Jack Searles told legislators about the regional elements of the statewide reform efforts.

Searles said that the county's two nursing homes were occupied at 96.5 percent in Machias and 100 percent in Olean during 2004 and part of 2005, but The Waters facilities in Allegany and Salamanca have low occupancy rates and don't accept Medicaid. There, the occupancy rates are 67.6 percent and 84.2 percent, respectively, placing the countywide average below the state low-occupancy standard of 94.5 percent.

"We're going to be citing this case to be an issue," Searles said.

Overall, the county has a need for 23 additional beds and its occupancy standard of 94 percent is slightly lower than the state's standard. The county has an unmet need for non-institutional services at 62.3 percent, higher than the state's 50 percent standard.

Searles said on the basis of these numbers, the county should be able to sidestep restructuring.

On a related issue, the county soon will have to make a decision on a "right of first refusal" to continue as a point-of-entry for screening long-term care clients and coordinating their services. If the county does not wish to pursue it, contracts will be offered to nonprofit agencies. Requests for applications have already been sent out, with submission dates between July 1 and Sept. 30.

"The state is moving aggressively forward. I've never seen them move this quick," said Searles.

The lawmakers agreed informally to Searles' request to recall a human services consulting firm, Center for Governmental Research of Rochester, to help prepare for this step.

"This will change the nature of human services delivery in the county," Searles said.

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