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Otsego Manor residents head outside to try and save their home

By GARY LIBERTORE

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. (WKTV) - Many of the residents of Otsego Manor ventured outside to take part in a protest to try and stop Otsego County from selling the county-run facility to a private healthcare facility.

Otsego Manor in Cooperstown is a 174 bed facility that is home to residents who suffer from a range of disabling diseases such as multiple sclerosis to dementia and is also a short term rehabilitation center.

58-year-old Claire Cardinale, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis says she fears that if a private agency takes over that will mean personnel changes. She said, "The people that work here, they're a family to us and we're a family to them."

Back in September the Otsego County Legislature voted in favor of looking to sell the facility and the license to run it, to a private organization.

Legislators site the increasing costs to run the facility along with less and less Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement as the reasons to sell it.

Otsego County Legislator and Otsego Manor Committee Chairperson Katherine Stuligross was out on Friday to try and ease the concerns of residents and their families.

Stuligross says Otsego Manor costs county taxpayers three million dollars per year to maintain the facility, and says county financial leaders say that number could go up to six million by 2014. She said, "Where does that 3 million come from? Do we cut a highway patrol, do we not repair the roads? There are no easy decisions, but we are not a wealthy county."

This type of sale is something that's been done in many other counties around the state, but in some circumstances the new private company eventually pulled out and the home ended up closing after several years.

Carol Kiehn Kirkey was out among the protesters Friday. Her husband Terry, who was diagnosed with dementia at age 52, has been a resident of Otsego Manor for the past four years.

Kiehn Kirkey says she is concerned about her husband's well being if and when a private institution takes over. She says, "Studies have shown that privatized care can result n and often does, more falls and bed sores and declined residents lives. I don't pretend to know everything there is to know about this issue, but a lot of us feel there may be options that have not been explored."

Otsego County Legislator Keith McCarty is one of those who agrees with Kiehn Kirkey.

McCarty was out talking with residents on Friday as well. He voted against looking into selling the facility. He said, "I thought we should do some study on different methods instead of selling it. I mean, can we afford 6 million dollars in taxes, to keep it up? No we can't, but there's got to be things that we can do to help with it."

When asked if this protest could possibly stop a potential sale, Stuligross said, the county is only looking at the option, it is not set in stone.

Along with residents and their families, some Otsego Manor workers were out protesting as well.

The facility employs 164 full time county workers and 84 part time.

Elizabeth Sellars has been the R.N. Supervisor for the past 16 years and says she is fearful a private company coming in would cost her, her job, but prays it wouldn't, not so much because of her salary and benefits, but because of her love for the residents and the facility itself. She said, "Although I'm older and I can retire, I really sort of owe my soul to this place, and this is not a profession, it's a calling."

Otsego County is in the process of hiring a consultant to begin looking for a qualified healthcare organization to purchase and take over Otsego Manor.

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