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Niagara County wants to sell home care programs by June

Niagara County will sell its home health care programs by June, the county Health Department's proposed 2012 budget assumes.

The budget, presented to the Board of Health last week, includes only six months of funding for the home care programs, according to Victoria Pearson, director of financial management for the department.

She said she was instructed by the county's budget staff to make that move.

The County Legislature has directed the sale of the two programs: the Long-Term Home Health Care Program, sometimes called the "nursing home without walls," and the Certified Home Health Care Agency, which assists patients with short-term rehabilitation.

Niagara Hospice offered $3.75 million for the programs; the Visiting Nursing Association bid $2.5 million; and the Catholic Health System offered $1.85 million.

A committee headed by County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz is reviewing the offers.

Public Health Director Daniel J. Stapleton said a presentation will likely be made at a Legislature meeting in late September or early October.

Once the Legislature accepts one of the offers, a contract will be negotiated and state Health Department approval for the transaction will be sought.

Stapleton said 14 county nurses will be laid off, but the county will try to secure job offers for all of them from the home care program's new operator.

He said one of the issues likely to be part of the contract negotiations will be what happens if the nurses leave the county payroll on their own before the programs are transferred.

The county might have to hire the new firm to provide services in advance and pay the new license holder for the work, Stapleton said.

Despite the sale of the home care programs and the departure of 14 employees, the Health Department still was not able to present a budget that decreased net county costs.

The $22 million budget the Board of Health approved increases net county costs by $57,000. Glatz and Budget Director Daniel R. Huntington had asked for that figure to decrease by $511,000.

The problem, Pearson said, is that nontax-revenue sources for health programs are drying up.

For example, even though the budget includes only half a year of home care services, the county cost for them will be higher than it is for a full year in 2011.

"The state aid [for home care] is being eliminated completely, so there went our revenue," Pearson said.

The Health Department receives a total of 20 state and federal grants for various programs, but many are being slashed. The total of the 20 grants will be down by almost $128,000.

Pearson said the biggest loss is the complete elimination of a Homeland Security emergency planning grant, which would have brought in $176,000.

Pearson said the Health Department is seeking a $1 million-a-year grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would plug the gaps.

But 80 percent of the Health Department's net county cost is in two state-mandated programs: early intervention and preschool special education.

"There's grants out there, but not for mandated programs. You can't cover costs you already have," Pearson said.