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SALE, RENOVATION OF NURSING HOME CONSIDERED

For sale: One nursing home. Five stories, 172 beds, escarpment view.

Such an advertisement could appear in newspapers soon if the Niagara County Legislature votes Tuesday to authorize the sale of Mount View Health Facility, the county-owned nursing home on Upper Mountain Road.

Even before the facility is officially for sale, two companies, one local and one from Florida, have expressed interest, according to Legislator John W. Cole III, D-Lockport.

But the county is hedging by combining the advertisement with a proposal to submit an expansion plan to the state.

A $15 million renovation project is on the drawing board. Edmond C. Marchi, Mount View administrator, said that having the designers, Siemens Building Technologies, complete the preliminary filings with the state would cost the county $225,000.

"That doesn't lock you into anything," Marchi said. "I think the Health Services Committee wanted some kind of options."

Cole, chairman of that committee, agreed. "There's no consensus that I've asked for," he said.

"The way I understand it, we really have nothing to lose," Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, said during a Public Works Committee meeting last week. He described the $225,000 as a necessary expense if the county decides on the expansion project, while it would be recouped many times over if Mount View is sold.

"The reason we're doing this two-pronged approach is we're not sure how this will work out," Marchi said. "There's a lot of hurdles to purchasing a nursing home in New York State. . . . You're probably looking at a year and a half to two years. It's not going to happen next week."

Mount View has what Marchi called "a $2 million-a-year problem." He said the nursing home, self-sufficient in the late 1990s and successful enough to produce surpluses that were raided to balance the regular county budget, has begun to lose money again -- about $200,000 a month.

The facility, he said, has become dependent on special federal aid called an "intergovernmental transfer."

"That's been bailing the county out," Marchi said. But the federal government intends to phase out such aid by 2005.

But if the facility were renovated, it would be eligible for substantially increased Medicaid reimbursements. Eighty percent or more of Mount View's patients are traditionally Medicaid recipients.

Cole said the county might sell its license to offer nursing home beds while being stuck with the 64-year-old building, originally built as a tuberculosis sanitarium and later used as a hospital.

"Whether there's one for the building, I don't know, but there's a market for the beds," he said.

So far that market includes two companies that have sent out what Marchi called "feelers."

He identified them as Senior Associates, a Williamsville firm that owns Batavia Nursing Home and Fairchild Manor Nursing Home in Lewiston, and Universal Health Associates of Lauderhill, Fla., which is trying to break into the New York market.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that," said Marc Korn, co-owner of Senior Associates. "My attorneys are aggressively looking for properties on my behalf."

The phone listed for Universal Health was not answered Friday.

The plan to sell is unpopular with the presidents of the two county employees unions that represent Mount View workers.

"I'm going to fight it to the bitter end," vowed Frances E. Faery, president of Local 832, Civil Service Employees Association. "It's going to cost the county more to place those (patients elsewhere) than it is to keep it open."

"It's the senior citizens that will suffer," said Edward McDonald, head of Local 182, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "You get what you pay for . . . if you get some low-paid workers and a cutthroat owner. If a company can come in and make a profit, why can't the county make a profit or at least break even?"

"We'd be required to plan a transition that would be seamless," Marchi said. "That's working with unions."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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