AUBURN — Representatives from Auburn Community Hospital including CEO Scott Berlucchi came to the Cayuga County Legislature's Public Works Committee meeting Tuesday night with their proposed plan for the former county nursing home site in Sennett.
The hospital has expressed interest in purchasing the currently vacant property at 7451 County House Road, in order to move its nursing home, the Finger Lakes Center for Living, to that space. The hospital would then utilize the space its nursing home currently occupies at 20 Park Ave. to bring more of its doctors under one roof and eventually open up a 10-bed drug and rehabilitation center, too.
Berlucchi and staff said they wanted to present their proposal to legislators in hopes of garnering their support moving forward. ACH currently has a certificate of need filed with the state Department of Health, which is still in the review process. It also hopes to be awarded about $3.5 million in state funding for the project. Chief Financial Officer Jason Lesch said the hospital will likely find out at the beginning of May if it received that funding.
Berlucchi said the plans are part of current negotiations ACH is working on with St. Joseph's Hospital and the University of Rochester to bring in more doctors and services to the area including specialists in radiology and neurology. Expanding ACH's services to include the drug and rehabilitation program and expanding the nursing home to the Sennett property, Berlucchi said, would help with the hospital's long-term strategy, and its potential partnerships with those other hospitals.
"I'm still blocking and tackling, and these guys are playing the NFL," Berlucchi said to committee members. "Your job is to make sure we're as strong as we need to be."
After Legislator Tim Lattimore asked for an update on the hospital's financials, Lesch said ACH made a profit in 2016, one of the first years it had done so in a while. Berlucchi added that ACH made about $5.6 million last year and had a clean audit. The hope is that should an agreement on the former county nursing home move forward, the hospital can save money on renting doctors' offices, increase revenue by charging insurance companies more through an increased fee schedule since doctors will be on hospital premises and increasing ACH's eligibility for federal funds. Berlucchi said when everything is said and done, he expects the entire proposal to increase ACH's revenue between $1 and $1.5 million per year.
Legislator Tucker Whitman said what he's most interested in is the potential for a new rehab facility. He asked why the hospital is not looking to add more than 10 beds with all of the potential savings and new revenue through the proposed project.
Berlucchi said through his own research, reaching out to places in Syracuse and out toward Rochester, there are plenty of empty beds for drug and alcohol rehab.
"I fell for the same thing," he said. "I was told there aren't any beds within miles of here, and what we found out is quite the opposite. There's a ton of empty beds around here. Access is not going to be an issue."
Legislators also heard more details on the reasons for moving the nursing home. Abby Bovie, director of nursing at the Finger Lakes Center for the Living, said it's time to plan for the future.
"We've outgrown this building," Bovie said. "We are very limited with our private bed ability. The county space would allow us to double that capacity to 16 beds. It gives us the opportunity to maybe future building projects, but also one of the biggest problems we currently have is the way the building is laid out."
The hospital-like environment is something Bovie said she would like to change for future residents.
Legislators voted last month to ask state representatives permission to negotiate directly with ACH for the sale or lease of the county building rather than going out to bid. Cayuga County Attorney Fred Westphal had said the county went out to bid once or twice already with no success.
It was not clear Tuesday night the timeline for next steps, but Berlucchi told legislators he would keep in touch.
In other news:
• Gary Duckett, superintendent of parks and trails and buildings and grounds, asked the committee whether the county should charge the Auburn Enlarged City School District to hold its high school commencement at Emerson Park. The Cayuga County Parks Commission had voted to charge the district a $750 rental fee for Deauville Island with a $750 deposit, in addition to charging the $2 per vehicle parking fee at its meeting last month.
Duckett said following that recommendation from the commission, he and Legislature Chairman Keith Batman met with Superintendent Jeff Pirozzolo. Pirozzolo said he plans to provide the school's own security, which would cut down on the costs to the county. A few other adjustments were made, too, resulting in about $366 in savings to the county.
Chairman of the committee Terry Baxter wanted to uphold precedent and charge the district for the use of the park but waive the parking fee. Most other members wanted to charge the district for everything. Others did not want to argue over a few hundred dollars.
The committee decided to turn the decision back to the parks commission for review with the information regarding the school's offers. The commission will meet 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 26 at the Emerson Park Maintenance Office, 6914 East Lake Road, Auburn.