PERSONNEL AND FUNDING ISSUES COULD GO UNRESOLVED BEYOND SIGN DATE
BY MICHAEL RICONDA
NEW CITY – Sympaticare, the company that plans to lease and eventually buy the Summit Park Hospital and Nursing Care facilities, might not be ready by the stipulated contract date of September 30, according to CEO Shalom Bronstein.
Bronstein, who provided an update on the transfer situation to the County Legislature on Wednesday, explained that considering operational transfer issues and pending litigation, an end-of-month switch might not be prudent.
“We do not think it would be safe to transfer on October 1,” Bronstein said.
Given that the hiring process is ongoing for the facility and operations must continue uninterrupted through the deal, the transfer of operations is a particularly delicate aspect of the process. Bronstein further stated that five department heads have received job offers, but the evaluations are ongoing for other employees of the facilities who wish to continue to work at Summit Park.
The deal might also be jeopardized by ongoing legal difficulties. Two lawsuits were filed by Northern Services Group, a competitor with Sympaticare in the bidding process, and another was filed by the Civil Services Employees Association, which sought to prevent potential union job losses following privatization.
The complaints were dismissed in December 2014, but a request to renew litigation is pending before the court. According to Deborah Allen, who represented Sympaticare’s legal counsel, the company needed cash in hand from a bank loan to close, but a bank might not be willing to finance the purchase if there is an ongoing suit threatening the deal.
In spite of setbacks, however, all parties involved are intent on resolving the deal on time. According to Bronstein, the minimum amount of time required before they could close would likely be about four weeks, two weeks after the end-of-month deadline.
County Attorney Thomas Humbach stressed that two weeks was enough time to work out a compromise on contested legal language related to new legal precedent on appropriate legislative approval.
“I think everyone wants this to happen,” Humbach said.
The meeting on Wednesday was meant to vote on several of such technical issues, most notably the Legislature’s right to authorize the transfer to the Rockland County Health Facilities Corp., an LDC established to acquire Summit Park. Though Humbach stated the deal itself was not likely to be jeopardized by a failure to pass such a resolution, he added passage would likely avoid further legal complications.
The matter passed alongside another resolution permitting the County Executive to adjust the date when current hospital positions are abolished and some are presumably transferred to Sympaticare. All legislators except Aron Wieder, Ilan Schoenberger, Phillip Soskin, Aney Paul and Toney Earl voted for the resolution. Legislator Patrick Moroney was absent.
The legal ambiguity did create some hesitance, with some legislators taking issue with a lack of transparency in discussion of finer technical points. Representatives from Northern Services were in attendance, but legislators were wary of going into executive session on a matter as sensitive to the public as Summit Park.
Legislator Ilan Schoenberger further stated he had “great reluctance” in a vote on a matter which was not required for closing but for which no public explanation was provided, though the matter’s broad legal aspects were able to be raised.
“I don’t understand why it’s here,” Schoenberger argued.
Other legislators were eager to move the deal forward by approving the technical resolutions. Legislator Joseph Meyers argued it would be irrational not to tidy up all possible legal complications and avoid potential lawsuits.
“We shouldn’t do anything where we shoot ourselves in the foot,” Meyers said.
Likewise, Legislator Jay Hood reminded other legislators that the deal was all but certain and had broad support from almost the entire body. Hence, clearing up technical aspects was an accepted matter of course.
“I think that’s what was intended for two years now, and I think this is the way it has to go”
Summit Park has proven to be a financial strain on County finances for years, remaining insolvent in spite of sizable contributions. The facility lost $27 million in 2012, $16 million in 2013 and $7.2 million in 2014. The County contributed $12 million to the facility in 2014 alone.
The deal, which was announced in July 2014, seals a 99-year lease of the property and aims to transfer the financial burden to Sympaticare, which will likely restructure the facility’s assets. Though the property is still technically owned by the County, the lease payments will likely precede the transfer of the deed to the hospital and nursing home.
In exchange, the county will receive $12 million for the sale of the hospital and $24 million for the nursing care center. After legacy costs, the County is expected to turn a profit of $10 million, which will likely go toward deficit reduction.
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