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Patients are advised to get out

The chairman of the Niagara County Legislature and the president of the county's blue-collar union don't often agree, but they have the same advice for Mount View Health Facility patients and their families:

Get out now.

"If I had a family member in Mount View, I think that would be a prudent thing to do," said Legislator Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster.

"That's a smart statement," concurred Edward McDonald, president of Local 182, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which represents most of the workers at the county-owned nursing home. "If you want to keep your family in Niagara County, based on what this County Legislature did, you'd better start shopping nursing homes now."

The County Legislature has voted to close Mount View by June 30, 2008, in the wake of a decision by the Berger Commission, a state panel on the future of health care in New York, that it would be closed.

The county also entered a competition for state grants to help pay the closure costs. The county is requesting almost $19.2 million toward a cost estimate of $28.8 million, which includes retirement benefits for workers for many years to come.

Medicaid regulations require patients evicted from a closed nursing home to be relocated within 50 miles of the closed facility. McDonald said a 50-mile radius of Mount View includes parts of six counties.

"We're respecting the individual patient," County Manager Gregory D. Lewis said. "We're helping and supporting and doing all we can to support them in their placement. We want all residents to have the same opportunity to find placement close [by]."

Burmaster said last week that he's concerned that the Berger Commission's other mandates, which include the closure of four Erie County nursing homes, might make the local market tight.

"I've heard the state might do the big [counties] first and leave the smaller ones until later. That troubles me because of bed availability," said Burmaster, R-Ransomville. "We could probably place all these people within a 23- or 24-mile radius, which would take some of the sting out of it for those people who have to travel [to nursing homes] to visit relatives."

Lewis said: "We should be the first. We have responded. The larger entities are responding in ways that are very complex, that raise a lot of issues for the state. We simplified it."

McDonald said it's not easy to find a new home for some patients who need full-scale acute care and are on Medicaid.

"There are some residents who are having trouble getting out," said McDonald, who said he heard that from his union members at Mount View but couldn't discuss cases publicly because of privacy regulations.

Other nursing homes aren't required to take the Mount View patients.

"They're screening [patients], cherry-picking them, taking the ones that fit into their facility the best," McDonald said.

But the union leader, who fought against the county's plan to sell Mount View and then against the closure, couldn't resist a political crack at the County Legislature.

"The best beds are outside Niagara County, so they won't have to pay the tax on the $28 million it takes to close their home," he said.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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