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Mount View closing appears certain after state report County lawmakers ready lawsuit to recoup damages from loss of $2.4 million sale

Unless the State Legislature does the unexpected and rejects a commission report on hospital and nursing home closures, the end may be near for Mount View Health Facility.

But Niagara County may go to court to try to win damages from the state for scotching the $2.4 million sale of the county-owned nursing home.

A meeting between County Manager Gregory D. Lewis and County Legislature leaders late Wednesday resulted in a consensus that the county wants no part of the Berger Commission report's directive that Mount View be replaced with an assisted-living facility.

Legislature Chairman William L. Ross said Thursday that such a facility would be "an anchor around the necks of the Niagara County taxpayers."

And Assistant County Attorney J. Michael Fitzgerald said that a resolution to sue the state is being crafted.

It will be introduced during a joint meeting of the County Legislature's Community Services and Administration committees, called for 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Public Safety Training Center, 5574 Niagara St. Extension.

In June, the county sold Mount View to Senior Associates, an Amherst company, for $2.4 million. The deal never closed, and unless the Berger Commission report is shot down in Albany, it never will.

Marc I. Korn, the owner of Senior Associates, said last week that the deal is off if the commission report is approved, because the county would no longer have a skilled nursing facility to sell.

Fitzgerald said, "Our office and Damon & Morey [the Buffalo law firm that advised the county on the Mount View sale] are recommending we bring litigation."

"Certainly, Niagara County has been harmed by $2.4 million," said Legislature Majority Leader Malcolm A. Needler, R-North Tonawanda. "We do need to protect our rights, and we'll consider how to do that."

As for the future of Mount View, it appears there isn't any if the Berger Commission report stands.

"Definitely, we don't want to get involved in the assisted-living business in Niagara County," Ross, C-Wheatfield, said Thursday. "The county doesn't want to have anything to do with it; absolutely not. That was not a gray area."

Needler said the County Legislature doesn't have to take a vote to close Mount View.

"In effect, the decision's been taken out of our hands," he said. "My understanding is, if it's on that [commission] list, the state will lift the license for those beds."

Mount View Administrator Patricia Weeks O'Connor declined to comment Thursday, but last week she said the county had "right of first refusal" on an assisted-living facility.

She said that if the county refused to build one, the state Health Department would probably seek proposals from private companies.

The Berger Commission report hints at state aid for construction projects forced by the recommendations.

But Ross said, "The state might pick up the construction cost, but there's always the operating costs afterward. You don't have the reimbursement formula you have in a nursing home, where you're going to end up in the red anyway. You're really putting an anchor around the necks of the Niagara County taxpayers by getting involved in assisted living."

The commission's recommendations would take effect by June 2008 unless the State Legislature vetoes them this month. The Buffalo News has reported that the plan is likely to be approved, however.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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