It’s pretty clear to everyone by now that the sale of Otsego Manor in Jan. 27, 2014, was a mistake.
That was punctuated with numerous exclamation marks Wednesday, Sept. 12, when Focus CEO Joseph Zupnik and his chief financial executive, Daniel Herman, pleaded guilty before Otsego Town Justice Gary Kuch in the Fly Creek courtroom.
Under a plea agreement, Zupnik and Herman admitted to only one of the eight counts against them, one involving patient M.P., left in a chair for 41 hours over Labor Day Weekend 2016. The specifics, as detailed by the Attorney General’s Office, appear at right.
More serious, in that death resulted, may have been the count involving Robert Banta, former longtime county Soil & Water
Conservation District chairman, so admired that the district’s headquarters on Route 33 is named in his honor. Admitted to Focus, he fell twice the first night there, and died at Bassett Hospital a few days later.
Some may wish the penalties were harsher – avoiding jail time by their guilty pleas, Zupnik and Herman will be sentenced Oct. 10 to a term of community service, plus fines and expulsion from administering nursing homes that get federal Medicaid funding. Further, these criminal convictions should have nursing home owners who are inclined to cut corners to think again.
Still, should the responsibility for the Focus fiasco – the widely recognized deterioration of care for some of our county’s most vulnerable citizens – be left at that?
Retired banker Bill Dornburgh, a member of the county Health Facilities Corp. set up by the county Board of Representatives to shelter itself from attempts to block Otsego Manor’s sale, recalls telling Zupnik that the sale price – $18.5 million – was too high, that Focus could never cover its investment.
Dornburgh voted nay on the sale to Focus. So did two other members of the Health Facilities Corp. – Dr. Don Pollock, the retired Bassett physician, and Carol Kirkey, whose husband Terry passed away at what was still Otsego Manor in February 2013.
But the four others voted aye: county Reps. Kay Stuligross, Democrat, and Don Lindberg, Republican; Kim Muller, former Oneonta mayor and, until the end of this month, chair of the county Democratic Party; and Oneonta contractor Rick Eastman. They are certainly public-spirited citizens to take on a thankless job at no remuneration; nonetheless, they must take some responsibility for what turned out to be the wrong decision, predictably so. Dornburgh was right.
Was there simply no corporation or institution in our vast United States of America capable of effectively administering our county nursing home?
On May 15, 2013, the county representatives voted unanimously for the creation of the Health Facilities Corp., which allowed them to wash their hands of the 4-3 vote to sell Otsego Manor to Focus the following Jan. 27. Shouldn’t those men and women bear some responsibility for the eventual outcome, too?
Most of the county reps then have now moved on; the two most directly involved, Stuligross to retirement near Philadelphia, and Lindberg to election as Worcester town supervisor.
Likewise, Republicans Jim Powers, Pauline Koren and the late Betty Ann Schwerd have left the board, as have Democrats Rich Murphy, since passed away, and Beth Rosenthal, John Kosmer and Linda Rowinski.
Three remain in office today: Republicans Ed Frazier and Kathy Clark, and Democrat Gary Koutnik.
It’s been noted here before that the very nature of the Otsego County Board of Representatives – 14 members, elected by a couple of hundred people from individual districts, yet making decisions for all of us – shelters individual reps from accountability.
You can snub your nose at the 60,636 of us as long as you keep the few hundred neighbors in your camp.
The decision to sell the Manor affected all of us; yet no one – except, thankfully, Zupnik and Herman – have paid any price. This is one reason why a county executive is being considered: to centralize accountability, and thus, responsibility – blame AND credit.
Now, that barely exists.
Still, Frazier, Clark and Koutnik are up for reelection next year. If the electoral process is working at all in Otsego County, they should be challenged, and the challenger should ask: Who lost Otsego Manor?
Now we know, lives indeed may be at stake.
Two top executives of Focus Ventures have been arrested on eight counts involving two residents of the county’s former nursing home, Otsego Manor. (The county sold the Manor to Focus in January 2014, for $18.5 million, and Centers Health Care bought it from Focus in January for an undisclosed sum.)
Five of the counts are “endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person.” The other three are “willful violation of health laws.”
Two patients were involved. The first, identified as M.B., was a celebrated case. She was left untended in a wheelchair throughout Memorial Day Weekend 2016. Several nurses and aides faced criminal charges as a result. The second, now known to be Robert Banta, longtime chair of the Otsego County Soil & Water Conservation board; the conservation center on Route 33, Town of Middlefield, is named in his honor. He fell on June 17, 2015, the night he moved into Focus, hit his head, and died a week later.
Arrested and arraigned May 31 in Otsego Town Court in Fly Creek were
Focus CEO Joseph Zupnik and Daniel Herman, a
partner in the company.
The company that operated Focus Otsego, CCRN
Operator, was also charged.
On the one hand, there’s hope in this piece of bad news, hope that nursing-home operators can’t recklessly cut staff and not be held responsible for deadly consequences.
Two weeks before, another piece of bad news, that Centers, Focus’ successor, had unilaterally raised “private pay” rates from $320 to $510 a day, the highest in New York State – Long Island and New York City included – caused a sense of despair. (Since, Centers has rolled it back to $410.)
With federal reimbursement policies forcing public nursing homes into private hands, can nothing be done to ensure the new private owners provide satisfactory care to our most vulnerable fellow citizens?
Recently, Gary Koutnik, D-Oneonta, vice chairman of the Otsego County Board of Representatives and chairman of its Human Services Committee, wrote a letter in response to an editorial urging the county board take more responsibility for the former Otsego Manor.
Having sold the Manor, he said, the county board no longer has responsibility for what happens there. This is not to beat up on Koutnik: His opinion is widely shared among county representatives.
The Zupnik-Herman arrests prompt us to repeat our point, and expand on it.
At the very least, the county board should have a representative at every meeting of the Centers (formerly Focus) Family Council. Medicaid regulations require nursing homes that accept federal reimbursement to have such councils. It is the only opportunity for the public to be briefed and ask questions of administrators.
Our state senator and assemblymen should do the same. And certainly, Congressman John Faso, R-Kinderhook, or any Democrat who might defeat him this fall should follow suit – after all, federal reimbursement policies forced the county to sell excellent Otsego Manor to profit-powered entities.
Since, who hasn’t heard stories with dismay about the degradation of service locally?
Regardless, the Zupnik-Herman indictments are excellent news, whatever the resolution of the court case.
The indictments, by the state Attorney General’s Office, send the message loud and clear: Top executives of nursing-home corporations may be exempt from the common decency in the search for profits, but they aren’t exempt from the criminal code.
What’s needed is whistle-blowers, not just private citizens, but the officials we elected to take care of us, who have greater clout in forcing action than the rest of us.
(In this case, that might indeed have already happened; if so, bravo.)
MILFORD – Jennifer Lundy, who worked for 23 years at Otsego Manor until her battle with lung cancer required her to stop, passed away on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, at her home in Milford where she lived with her Mom surrounded by her family, loved ones and beloved pets.
She was born on Sept. 25, 1972, at Cobleskill Hospital to Norine Webster Lundy of Milford and Brian Lundy of Oneonta.
COOPERSTOWN – Four former employees of Focus Rehabilitation & Nursing Center were arrested for allegedly leaving a 94-year-old resident alone in a recliner for nearly two days, according to Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
LPN Lorraine Caldwell, 54, Holland Patient; LPN Amanda Gus, 30, Hartwick; Sarah Schuyler, certified nurse assistant (CNA), 29, and CNA Donna Gray, 48, Sidney, face charges they they each failed to provide care to a 94-year-old resident over the Memorial Day weekend this year.
INDEX – Employees of Focus Rehab & Nursing have overwhelmingly approved a contract between the company and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) through 2018, the company announced today.
“We know that in order to give our residents the best care and to meet our expansive plans we need a dedicated workforce of professionals who know they will be with us for the long run,” said Focus CEO Joseph Zupnik. “Having our employees quickly approve a contract was a priority for us and we consider the outcome a success for everyone concerned.”
Focus had hoped to have the contract in place upon taking over ownership from Otsego County over a month ago but negotiations over pay and benefits took slightly longer than planned, a press release said.
“The agreement provides stability and job security for our members,” CSEA Director of the Private Sector Division Bob Compani was quoted as saying. “We negotiated the best deal possible over a period of several months and our members followed our recommendation to accept the terms.”
INDEX – The shift that punched out at 3 p.m. today at Otsego Manor worked for the County of Otsego.
The shift that punched in works for Focus Ventures, the private operator of nursing homes, based in Airmont, Rockland County, that now owns the county nursing home.
The plan had been to close the deal last Thursday, said county Rep. Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta, who had been chairing the Otsego Manor Facilities Corp., established to negotiate the sale. However, it was a complicated transaction and took longer than expected, she said.
Kurt Apthorpe, the last Manor director under county ownership, continues in that role, and Stuligross she doesn’t expect anyone to immediately see any changes in operations.
She was reluctant to estimate how much the county may now save due to the Manor sale, given legacy costs and other issues. County Treasurer Dan Crowell will have a better understanding of financial issues, she said.
INDEX – Otsego Manor, the county nursing home, will change owners Wednesday, Oct. 8, moving from public to private hands, county Rep. Kay Stuligross, president of the Local Development Council that negotiated the sale, announced today.
“Otsego Manor prides itself on being ‘home’ to all its residents. That doesn’t mean their home away from home, but the place where they really feel at home when they need skilled nursing care,” Stuligross said.
COOPERSTOWN – The state Department of Health has approved a “certificate of need,” the final hurdle to completing the sale of Otsego Manor, the county nursing home, to Focus Ventures of Rockland County.
County Rep. Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta, who chairs the Otsego Manor Committee, received word at mid-morning today.
“We don’t know yet when we will be able to close,” said said. “A lot has to happen first in addition to the sprinklers simply in closing one business and starting a new one seamlessly.”
The county board learned at its monthly meeting Wednesday that the Manor’s sprinkler system had failed an inspection, and it would have to be replaced at an estimated $70,000.
COOPERSTOWN – County Rep. Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta, who chairs the Otsego Manor Committee of the county Board of Representatives, was expected the state Department of Health to approve the sale of the county nursing home to Focus Ventures of Rockland County. The department’s press office did not confirm the approval by the end of its workday today, but word should be forthcoming tomorrow.
County Rep. Kay Stuligross, D-Oneonta, this afternoon signed a contract to sell Otsego Manor to Focus Ventures, a nursing home operation based in Airmont,Rockland County.
Stuligross chairs the Otsego Manor Facilities Corp., established by the county Board of Representatives last year to facilitate the sale of the public nursing home. When Focus Ventures was identified as the potential buyer in January, the price was reported at $18.5 million.
Focus Ventures must now apply to the state Department of Health for a “certificate of need” to allow the sale to go through. “We’re not anticipating any problems getting approval, but you never know,” said Stuligross.
It would be “normal” for the health department to take a few weeks to four months to review Focus Ventures application. If approved, it would take another month to close on the sale.
“So we’re still saying we expect to close by the end of the year,” Stuligross said.