January 7, 2008

The Human Factor

In Sunday's Buffalo News, Tom Prohaska did a thorough piece on the Mt. View Health Facility, and the ramifications of its closure.

We've always believed that the county should not be in the health care business, nor should it be in any business that competes with the private sector. Unfortunately, the county's sale of the facility was derailed by the Berger Commission.

In the story, Prohaska states that with the closing of Mt. View, "the county sheds more than 200 jobs, which is equal to a good-sized plant closing, something Niagara County has seen its share of in recent years. But in this case, the workers losing their jobs were paid by the taxpayers". This is where things venture into a gray area.

We've all read the stories, Niagara County is the second highest taxed county in the country when taken as a percentage of home values. We also know that, as with virtually all counties in New York, the cost of personnel is the single most controllable expense. This is the quandary that all counties, including Niagara, must face.

If, as we have been told, nearly 80% of our county budget is mandated by the state and federal governments, how does the county efficiently maintain services while keeping costs in check? It would seem to come down to employees, as the 200 or so that no longer work at Mt. View have learned.

On the flip side, those of us who watch the Leg meetings have seen many public speakers demand that the Leg operate the county as effectively as can be. When public speakers make that demand, when listeners call WLVL to vent about the county, do they realize the human cost of what they are asking for? They're advocating that the county reduce the single biggest expense that they can control - personnel.

We're going to see the fact that the county reduced its work force by 200 employees on every incumbent Leg candidate's campaign literature in a year and a half. Why? Because that is what the public has demanded. It's ironic. I've seen AFSCME President Ed McDonald cavorting with gadfly Edwina Lusksch. The irony is that Lusksch has been the most vocal advocate in the county for reducing the number of county employees while McDonald serves as the president of the union that used to represent most Mt. View employees. What possible common interest could these two have?

But, as Prohaska stated, the county just shed 200 employees, the size of a small factory. Is that subtle editorial designed to elicit sympathy? Is it written to commend the Leg, and provoke further action? Why not eliminate Niagara County Sheriff Department road patrol? It's not mandated, and I'm sure it would save millions a year. Is that unfathomable? If I lived in any of the municipalities that have a police department, I'd have no problem with it whatsoever.

That, in a nutshell, is the conundrum that faces any governmental agency that must maintain services while keeping costs in check. Regardless of the proposed cut, there will always be someone who will fight against it. Unfortunately, its the county employees themselves that are getting played in this chess game.

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Anonymous said...

Now that the NC Leg has addressed the problem and burden with running a nursing home and finally had the guts to shut Mt. View down, (should have been done years ago but Dems didn't want to feel political fallout) they should now turn to the next taxpayer dollar sucking machine in NCCC. Faculty members making $100,000 for about 7 months work, another Culinary Arts Institute in WNY to educate residents so they can make $10/hour, Student Housing to to add to the taxpayers burden, faculty and staff getting Blue Cross and Blue Shield benefits with cosmetic surgery attached, and now the ever intelligent Board of Trustees give an almost 20% raise to their not too respected leader. Where and who else in Niagara County gets this type of raise? The employees here in Lockport get their wages cut at Delphi to keep the plant open and the college President picks up his paycheck in an armour car and runs off to some up scale neighborhood in Erie County to spend it. I hope Jack Quinn decides to move to Niagara County? Maybe Margie and the gang need to check and see what other perks the Board gives him.

Anonymous said...

The NC Leg didn’t have the guts to close Mt. View they chose to use the Berger’s Report as an escape goat. Nice post Hobbes, but if they’re not in the Healthcare business then what business are they in. As anon stated, are we in the school business or should we close NCCC. Then maybe we shouldn’t be in the police business we have the state for that. Let the state DOT repair our roads and bridges then we won’t have that burden. These are all quality of life issues and if we don’t care about quality of life issues do we really need NC Legislators?

virtual unreality said...

Ahhh yes, everything in this county come down to whether or not we need county legislators. Apparently, getting rid of all 19 legislators will cure every woe facing the county. It's so idiotic that it's funny.

Getting back to the post, I think you make a good point with the employees. They are the ones that get used as pawns when the Leg needs to look good. But that's the problem for the employees-for the Leg to look good, they need to reduce the size of county government. That's the double-edged sword.

Larry S said...

There is no other two-year/junior college in Niagara County, is there? In that case, the county isn't competing with the private sector.

I would also imagine that divesting itself from NCCC would take a referendum, which would likely go down.

fed up in da falls said...

NCCC employees make too much because previous presidents and the Legislature repeatedly gave the store away to the faculty union. The NCCC board brings in a president who is willing to take on the union and when the board likes his efforts and decides to pay him the average salary of community colleges statewide, some small thinkers start throwing bombs.

We shouldn't be afraid to pay people for important leadership positions in Niagara County. When you skimp, you end up with terrible leaders....did someone say Vince Anello?

Clark Griswold said...

I agree with the point that any referandum against NCCC would go down, as the only other option as far as colleges go in Niagara county is Niagara University, a private school with tuition fees hovering around $30,000+. Not to mention, that NCCC is in the process of adding dormitories. Whether that is a good idea or not remains to be seen, yet it is still an expansion that can only add to the value of the campus.

Larry Castellani said...

I can’t imagine what the source of someone's values are politically when you first and foremost measure everything in dollars and cents and think about anything that functions for people in terms of business. But if I must, NCCC is the best investment this county and this country ever had. Around 52% of all college students spend their first two years at a community college. If you want to destroy what’s left of the public sphere, then start trashing community colleges. And I know it’s a stretch for some of you, but try to imagine that a college can’t be understood as to its value and function on a “business model.”

But if you want to destroy NCCC just stick around a few years and this president will likely do it for you. Many at the college already think he’s destroyed the morale, collegiality, credibility and good faith negotiation not to mention several state laws. If it’s true that the Board supports him because he’s willing to “take on the union” that’s the most pathetically cynical thing I’ve ever heard. As I’ve said once before on this blog, we need academic leadership in a president not a fiscal hitman and budget director. Our president is good at what he apparently was hired to do. It’s just not what a president should be doing. We should change his title to finance minister.

Given also that the full-time faculty grows continually smaller, the average salary of senior faculty will obviously go up. What if we averaged in the “slave wages” of part time faculty, @ 40% of total faculty, what would the average salary look like then? Much less, yes?

Let me see any of you put the time, money and sweat into getting a Ph.D. and then work for less than I do. You wouldn’t do it. And it’s not worth it. So I suggest some of you put away your ‘sour grapes.’

Resentment and a poverty consciousness is the most regressive and nihilistic attitude that exists. And there’s all too much of that going around NC.

My critique of the college is that its General Education program should be oriented to turning out intelligent citizens, democratizing that intelligence and democratizing local culture. If we had authentic leadership that understood community education, that would begin happening. NCCC in fact should be the civic center of all democratic activity, education and research in and for NC. We should be turning out pro-actively politicized citizens not blackjack dealers. … I’ll stop before I have a stroke.

Anonymous said...

About time mt view closed. They have been talking about it for 30 years now so why is it a big surprise?? Everyone in the county cries about their taxes and want them lowered. Well thats exactly what the nc leg. did by closing mt. view which cost us millions. Sorry, but i would rather see mt. view closed(obviously can be handled by private sector)than lose sheriff road patrol ect.. Dont get me wrong i did feel sorry for the employees, but tired of their crying now. If you ask around majority of tax payers applaud the closing of that facility.

Larry Castellani said...

Another establishment delusion is the public-private distinction that Hobbes uses here. There is an inextricable interpenetration of the ‘public sphere’ and the ‘private sphere.’ The clearest example is at the national level. It’s called corporate welfare. Locally, it’s the PILOT. The sacred ‘private sector’ is all too ready to take money from the people’s taxes whenever they can create the opportunity.

When NCCC trains innumerable workers in programs that benefit local businesses you don’t hear the private sector/business community bitching about that, do you?

When legislatures become proxies for businesses/corporations that can afford to buy them out, then the laws become less that just and less then protective of the “public.” The laws simply are really only ‘private laws’ that create the conditions for maximizing profit and preventing the public from having a voice in creating just laws.

What “government” is in the “business” to do is a function of how you define “government” and who you want it to “serve.” So we get a de facto socialist government for the rich corporate/militarist sector and capitalism for those who really can’t participate in it.

I’d say it's more accurate to characterize most governments, in America, both local and national, as really private governments maintaining an ideological and propagandistic fa├žade of being an institution whose essence is in the public interest.

It’s a kind of linguistic and ideological shell game. There’s usually nothing under the “public” shell. It’s a little less than honest to play the “private sector” card when government money serves the "people," especially in areas where the private sector simply does not and doesn't really "care" to do the job in serving the people, unless of course there is a big profit in it.

pirate's code said...

"Apparently," putting lots of "words" in "quotes" makes one "smarter" than the rest of "us," even when it appears that no "one" or no "thing" is actually being "quoted." "Further', I am confused as to why some "words" get single 'quote' marks while "others" get the more standard "double quote" mark.

I'm sure the corporate welfare state is to blame.

You have some fascinating points to make, Larry, but when you take a small issue like Mt. View and attempt to blow it up into some macro-economic social commentary, you sometimes stop making sense.

I believe the basic points of the issue were that Mt. View was costing the taxpayers money to operate, while at the same time there was adequate private sector capacity to do the exact same job. Many of us believe that, in such instances, it is better to let the private sector fill that need.

Doing so boosts the economy twice -- by holding the line on our tax burden so that we pay for only those services that govt. generally does do better; and by improving the prospects of those business (in this case, nursing homes, assisted living facilities) that invested their money in facilities, training, regulatory compliance and the like while also employing our neighbors and paying taxes.

The original post was, I believe, simply acknowledging that there is a human toll to be considered regardless of where one stands on the issue. Please don't make it more than it is.

Larry Castellani said...

Dear pirate’s code:

So what stops making sense and at what point? I’d really be interested to know. I don’t think I’m making this issue more than it is. I’m trying to establishing connections and make distinctions that I think allow something of reality to show up differently and better. Yeh, I’m trying to say a lot in a short space. But thanks for bearing with me as much as you do.

In the first place I’m not convinced that the private sector, even in the “small issue” of the nursing home, is “filling that need.” Maybe it is but I doubt it. I don’t disbelieve that possibility. But, admittedly, I don’t trust it either. Just as I don’t trust the private sector to deliver health care to some 45 million uninsured Americans. Tell those people the private sector will get to them some day!

And, by the way, what’s the big stretch from Mt. View to raising the private-public issue??? There happens to be a connection between local and national politics. It’s not a “macro-economic social commentary”. It’s a conceptual issue which is important whether you want to belittle it or not. If you want to pretend there’s a clear distinction between private and public, that’s your choice, I guess. But I think your level-headed, clear simplicity really obscures and hides what’s at issue behind the issue, of course, in the name of down-to-earth reasoning. Such, what I consider, naivete just serves ideological purposes and does not serve critical understanding. (Sorry for the lecture.)

…. But more concretely why is it that paying 200 county employees from taxes isn’t a good investment for the county? They spend their paychecks here don’t they? Moreover, maybe the private sector nursing home business does provide considerable service. But do they really take up the slack for everyone? Are there not a significant number of people who fall through the cracks that ‘the people’ should take care of through county services???

Excuse the quotes, please. An occupational hazard.

And, lastly, humor me and tell me what “fascinating points” I’m making because I get the feeling you just want to essentially dismiss what’s most importantly at issue. Because other wise your ‘praise’ is just patronizing and condescending. In which case, you’re the one who really things you’re “smarter” than the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Read your post Larry and couldnt help to respond. You talk like you know everythinng, but you have it all wrong. My own mom was a resident at Mt. View until i had her moved to a private facility in Lockport(odd fellows)about 2 months ago. I will tell you right now that she gets a lot better care now than she ever did at Mt. View. The aids and nurses are a lot more friendly and caring now, and my mom seems to be doing a lot better now that she has been moved out. Say all you want about the private sector, but the patients are getting better care now. And the 200 workers?? Most of them are employed at the local nursing homes now(several at Odd Fellows). So now the money they are making there isnt going back in our economy? Hmm. ok

pirate's code said...

Larry --

Really busy, so I will respond to your questions more fully later. But, what you believe to be naivete is, in my view, just practicality. It's not that I don't get what you write, it's that I don't necessarily believe that there is always some greater plot or story behind every issue.

That doesn't make me smarter than you, but it also doesn't make me less smart. Just different.

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, no?

pirate's code said...

LC -- To some of you specific points in your second post:

"In the first place I’m not convinced that the private sector, even in the “small issue” of the nursing home, is “filling that need.” Maybe it is but I doubt it. I don’t disbelieve that possibility. But, admittedly, I don’t trust it either. Just as I don’t trust the private sector to deliver health care to some 45 million uninsured Americans. Tell those people the private sector will get to them some day!"

First, the private sector did meet that need because, as best as I can tell from the mainstream media, every resident of Mt. View found a new home -- in the private sector. And, there you go again rolling this up to a larger issue -- health insurance. I don't believe Mt. View was costing the county taxpayers in excess of $1 million per year because the residents didn't have insurance of some sort. It's my understanding that it had to do, in large part, with wage/benefits for county employees that were above private sector averages and thus unsustainable. I don't begrudge the county workers their pay, but if there is a competitor out there than can provide equal or better service for less cost, why waste my tax dollars. And, the private suppliers of that service pay property taxes. Mt. View didn't.

I guess we can agree that the larger issue of health insurance for Americans is a monumental problem that must be addressed by both government and the private sector. While you apparently str not convinced that private enterprise is the solution, let me ask -- how comfortable are you with having government provide it? After all, hasn't NYS made a complete mess of medicaid?

Still busy so I can't get to all your questions at once, sorry. And, if my snarky attitude caused offense, it was not intended as such.

Many people see things in black or white. I tend to look for the grey in the middle. In my years, that is usually where the truth is.

Larry Castellani said...

Pirate's code:
First, thanks for the great response. Much appreciated.

Regarding Mt. View, I admittedly don’t know most of the facts. I also have no doubt the residents were placed successfully. What I believe however is that surely, given the need to avoid the appearance and actuality of cruelty, special effort was made to find them private facilities. My concern is that in the future, when the Mount is forgotten history will we still have the same concern that those unable to provide for themselves will be given the same attention and care to find placement?

Also, though again I don’t have the facts, nevertheless, I find it real hard to believe that those workers were breaking the bank. It seems to me that whatever the cost, was it so extravagant to have some, at least minimal, publicly supported facility as a cushion for those in need. Surely, this is not a matter of me being a bleeding heart liberal or too cynical about the virtues and intentions of the private sector. I too have seen too much of social neglect to simply trust the ethics of the private sector. Furthermore why should private sector wage averages be a measure of what the public sector should earn? Why do they become the standard bearers? My position is that, though wild-eyed idealist I may be, is that there must be a way to judge the value of an institution prior to weighing in with the crucial fiscal concerns. To me money is not the measure of all things. If it was I would never have left my job at Prudential Insurance. I’d be making 5 times what I make at good ‘ol N-Trip. Nor do I hold that competition is necessarily the judge of efficiency or value. If the history of capitalism proved that the capitalists were really interested in fair competition, then I could further buy into your position.

I’d be a bigger fool, I guess than I already am, if I felt comfortable with government running health care. But our mistrust of government is not necessarily just a function of the inherent limits of government, but also of what the private sector perverting the process of government, as they do with lobbying, financing elections, etc., does to government. I don’t trust the AMA to run health care either, especially since they’ve gone belly up to insurance company control. If the private sector/AMA really believed that basic health was a right, then I might better buy in.

I also don’t think I’m switching or overinflating the topic by considering the Mount and national health care as equally private-public issues. The Mount and the Insurers/AMA are equally “caregivers” but one bows to the priority of profit and the other moreso to human interest. Both could be “socialized” (dare I use the term?) or privatized.

Lastly, in my more inebriated metaphysical moments, wouldn’t you know it, given the world we live in, I’d have to say a cigar is never really a cigar. I’m a student of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, the “masters of suspicion.” So Marx would say the cigar is always first a commodity, Freud a phallic symbol and Nietzsche, philosopher of nihilism that he is, that the world really doesn’t give a crap what the cigar is. And after all, just because one is paranoid, we all know doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

Again I do appreciate your taking the time and thoughtfulness. You’ve made my day and you’re almost my new hero.

pirate's code said...

LC --

Thanks for that, I guess. Not sure if almost being a hero is a good thing or damning with faint praise.

You admission of not knowing the facts but opining at length anyway reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"Nothing is so firmly believed as that which least is known."
--Michel de Montaigne

By the way, Freud should have laid off the cocaine and Nietzsche the opium.

Perhaps we can agree on the words of the noted philosopher and social scientist, Pogo, who said, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Anonymous said...

A little about the pay and benefits. The average worker at Mt. view starts at $4.00 and hour more than any private nursing home,But after a few years exp. an aid can make that much at other facility. The problem was the county self funded health ins.. The cosmetic surgery alone was costing the county close to a million a year. There was a deal on the table a couple years ago that if the employees at mt. view dropped cosmetic surgery with no strings attached that the county would invest in the cottages(self assisted living). Ed Mcdonald came back with his offer that not only included large raises, but they wanted eye and dental in place of cosmetic which would have cost the county double, and Ed was not willing to negotiate. Several employees would have took that offer, but it wasnt up to them Ed Mcdonald was the only one who could bring it to a vote, and he refused. You can sit in her and blame the nc leg. all you want, but they tried to save mt. view, but you wont hear their side. I am a union man, and have been one for years so i am not bashing unions, but the union who represents the workers are to blame for this mess.