It may be legal for Niagara County to refuse to comply with parts of the Berger Commission report on the future of health care facilities, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department says.
The report ordered the closure of Mount View Health Facility, the county-owned nursing home, and its replacement by an assisted living facility.
County leaders have no objection to closing the nursing home if they cannot sell it, but for budgetary reasons, they want no part of building something new to replace it.
Although the Berger report was granted the force of law after the State Legislature failed to alter it in December, the department is considering whether all of the report's provisions can be enforced, Health Department spokeswoman Claudia Hutton said.
"There are some exceptions to the Berger Commission recommendations where they're difficult to implement. This [Mount View] nursing home may be one of them," Hutton said.
If that is the Health Department's final answer, it means the primary legal impediment to the county's plans to get out of the business of caring for the infirm elderly may disappear.
The county's legal team met with regional Health Department officials in Buffalo Wednesday and laid out their plans to close Mount View by June 30, 2008, while refusing to replace it, County Manager Gregory D. Lewis said. The bureaucrats did not say the county could not do that.
"We're not willing to say a resolution passed by the County Legislature would do anything illegal," Hutton said.
The county has been trying to sell or close Mount View since 2004. Last year, it reached a $2.4 million sale agreement with Senior Associates, an Amherst company. But the Berger Commission's decision, resulting in a state plan to revoke Mount View's license on June 30, 2008, seems to have sunk the deal.
The contract allows either side to cancel the deal with 10 days' notice, and that is what Lewis recommends.
"There are no financial consequences for doing that," Lewis said.
Two Legislature committees are expected to vote this week on Lewis' package of Mount View actions: submitting a plan to close the 172-bed nursing home by the middle of next year, officially canceling last year's contract to sell the facility and providing a severance package for the nursing director, Sally M. Smith, who is expected to be the last person working at Mount View.
Lewis said the nursing home could close by the end of this year.
"How fast that will go will depend on a lot of things," he said.
The state must approve the details of the county's closure plan, and once that happens, the county must relocate the patients, who numbered 126 last week.
Lewis said the county expects to be able to place only about half of them in other nursing homes in Niagara County. Medicaid regulations say they must be moved within a 50-mile radius of Lockport.
The nursing home has about 200 unionized employees, and Lewis said some of them will have bumping rights to jobs in other county departments.