The state Health Department confirmed last week it will not require Niagara County to build an assisted living facility nor open an adult day care program.
The announcement clears the way for the county to wash its hands of institutionalized elder care after the Mount View Health Facility closes sometime in the next 12 months.
"We recognize we cannot force an operator to build a facility they don't want to build," said Health Department spokeswoman Claudia Hutton.
Regional Health Department officials had told county leaders last month they would probably allow the county to circumvent mandates in the Berger Commission report on the future of the state's health care facilities.
The report, which state officials say has the force of law, called for the replacement of Mount View, the county-owned nursing home, with an assisted living facility and the addition of adult day care.
The County Legislature voted June 26 to close Mount View by June 30, 2008, and to reject the assisted living and day care mandates.
At the June 26 meeting, Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso, an opponent of the Mount View closure, said he'd spoken to Mark Kissinger, a deputy commissioner in the Health Department, and was told the county had to build an assisted living facility.
Assistant County Attorney J. Michael Fitzgerald replied that was exactly the opposite of what he had been told.
Asked for a clarification, Hutton said the state won't require a county-owned facility.
"We'll work with Niagara County to find an operator who does want to build an assisted living facility," she said.
County Manager Gregory D. Lewis said, "We've had good conversations with [the Health Department]. They understand our position. . . . Our local providers have expressed interest. They're making contact with the state."
Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, Briody Health Care Facility of Lockport, the ElderWood nursing home chain and Senior Associates of Amherst have been identified by Lewis as potential bidders for a state contract to construct an assisted living facility.
The only one currently operating in the county is Briarwood Manor in Lockport.
Lewis said the bidders "are efficient and effective at this sort of thing. . . . The county thinks the state should reach out and start a process they can respond to."
The county's leverage with the Health Department stems in part from its lawsuit against the department over the plans to revoke Mount View's license. That torpedoed a planned $2.4 million sale of the nursing home to Senior Associates, approved by the County Legislature last year.
Lewis said there has been no planning yet on what the county would do with the Mount View real estate after the nursing home closes. It's located on Upper Mountain Road near the Delphi plant.
A report is due in September from Cannon Design of Grand Island on sites for proposed new county office campuses. Lewis wouldn't say whether Mount View, located in front of an office building that already houses the county Health and Mental Health departments, is under consideration.
"We haven't foreclosed any sites. We're not focusing on any sites," Lewis said.