Tomorrow in Elizabethtown, supervisors are likely to vote on the future of the Horace Nye nursing home, where roughly 100 elderly mostly-poor residents live. They are cared for, in large measure, by taxpayers.
At a rally over the weekend, Moriah town supervisor Tom Scozzafava argued that the home should not be privatized. Caring for elderly, infirm people is “what government is supposed to do,” he argued.
Along with Gerry Morrow from Chesterfield, Scozzafava laid out what was essentially a moral argument for keeping Horace Nye open. Taxpayers looking out for their neighbors is a good thing, they insisted.
A private company looking to turn a profit by caring for society’s most vulnerable citizens? In their estimation, that’s not such a good model. “I guarantee you we will regret this,” Scozzafava said.
This, of course, is the debate in miniature that America has been needing to have for a long time. We talk all the time about high taxes.
And some pundits insist that the greatest possible immorality is using progressive taxation to fleece our neighbors, redistributing wealth from “the job creators” to the less fortunate, the less talented, the less lucky.
That road, many people argue, leads to socialism.
But when you walk through the halls of Horace Nye, and see the fragile elderly souls who live there, you can’t escape the fact that there is another moral dimension to this conversation.
It is a moral question — not merely a fiscal one — whether or not to properly educate our children. It is a moral question whether our mentally ill will be homeless, or properly cared for.
And it is a moral question whether our grandparents will end their lives with dignity and decent care, or in the kind of dire poverty that once waited for most elderly people in America.
These are complicated questions. In the case of Horace Nye, the question isn’t whether to close the home and kick the residents out on the streets.
The question is whether a private company can give comparable levels of care and compassion, while shaving more than $2 million a year from the home’s budget.
A task force convened by Essex County answered that question in the affirmative.
In an interview with the Plattsburgh Press-Republican Sue Montgomery-Corey, town supervisor in Minerva, acknowledged fears that low-income Medicaid patients “would get tossed to the curb” if Horace Nye is privatized.
She added, “I don’t think that would happen here.”
Many other local government leaders have reached the same conclusion. New York has seen a race to privatize nursing homes. So has the North Country.
Government-run homes in Franklin, Saratoga, Warren and Washington County are all being privatized, or being considered for privatization.
The concern here is that local governments facing severe budget and property tax pressure — not just counties, but also school districts and towns — may make big cuts without thinking about the big picture.
What is their core mission? What is the moral dimension of the services that they provide? What’s the long-range plan for which services are “essential” and which programs are “luxuries”?
Have they done enough to contain costs internally? And what about public sector employees, who often earn considerably more than their private sector counterparts? Have they offered significant compromises and concessions?
The good news is that some of this conversation is happening. The Horace Nye sale has prompted rallies, debates, editorials.
The Press-Republican expressed satisfaction recently with the review process in Essex County, noting that whatever “decision the Board of Supervisors makes, they can do so with the knowledge they got neutral, accurate information” from county leaders.
The Glens Falls Post Star also prodded readers to think about “this latest trend in government, ” asking, “Should counties be in the nursing home business? What are the pros and cons from your viewpoint? What is your greatest fear?”
I’ll pose some similar questions to In box readers. Is this a good step that counties are making, using the private sector to help trim costs and provide services more efficiently?
Or do you fear that crucial, moral services could be outsourced in ways we will regret?
And what about other government services? Do you see a moral dimension to some of the programs and services that we provide to our more vulnerable neighbors?
Comments, as always, welcome.