Strafford County commissioners tout transparency of nursing home plan

We read with great interest Rep. Len Turcotte’s guest column in Foster’s Daily Democrat. Rep. Turcotte is clearly misinformed regarding the county nursing home project. Perhaps this is because he failed to attend a nearly three-hour workshop where many of his negative comments were addressed.

The architect and cost estimator were present at the workshop and answered questions from delegates who joined us both in the room and remotely that Rep. Turcotte suggested were unanswered. This project is no different from other county projects where all aspects of the work will be subject to competitive bidding to control costs.

To compare a nursing home to a house is like comparing apples and broccoli. Houses are expected to serve one family at a time over 50 years. The Strafford County nursing home can serve more than 200 families at a time, with one room expected to serve more than 100 families over the same 50-year period. The average house isn’t constructed to offer physical therapy, occupational therapy, staff education, or many of the other services necessary to deliver the high-quality skilled health care that Strafford County provides. The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services doesn’t set minimum size and amenity requirements for houses — they do for nursing homes. For example, housing construction costs would be much higher if one bathroom was required for every two residents like they are in nursing homes.

In what must be an effort to shock the reader, Rep. Turcotte fails to point out that he was advised that offsetting revenues are available to fund the nursing home project that are not available for a homeowner. These offsets include grant(s) made available by Gov. Chris Sununu, totaling $50,000,000 and available only to county nursing homes as well as offsetting operational revenues that come from things a new building would allow that the current building does not, like increased staff efficiencies and more capacity to take care of sicker residents.

Perhaps Rep. Turcotte also missed the fact that the Strafford County commissioners have produced a budget under the tax caps of the cities of Strafford County for the last 13 years and with Rep. Turcotte’s support during his tenure. While the towns in Strafford County do not have voter-initiated tax caps, they do benefit from the cities’ tax cap process and we are mindful of their budget obligations to their residents as well. This plan reflects the very definition of fiscal responsibility that Strafford County residents live with every day — don’t buy something if you don’t have a responsible way to pay for it. The Strafford County commissioners pledged that if this project was approved, it would again stay under the city caps.

The involvement of the cities in the project was for a two-fold purpose. We approached the cities to offer the “old Riverside” to them to help them deal with the housing insecurity plaguing our region. Statistics show that the cities in Strafford County serve the majority of the homeless, in part because supports are more concentrated there. The second reason was to work together to get information about the project out through televised meetings in each of the cities. We felt then, and continue to feel now, that the more the voters of Strafford County learn about the entire project, the more they will support it.

The decision to delay the Sept. 6 follow-up meeting was in response to feedback from many Strafford County delegation members at the informational workshop that Rep. Turcotte did not attend where representatives asked for more information about the money available to Strafford County to offset project costs.

A 330,000-square-foot nursing home facility on County Farm Road in Dover is being proposed as part of a long-term solution.

A 330,000-square-foot nursing home facility on County Farm Road in Dover is being proposed as part of a long-term solution.

One of the biggest potential sources, the County Nursing Home Infrastructure program sponsored by Gov. Sununu, had an application due date of Sept. 9, 2022 with award decisions expected by early October. We felt waiting until we could report on this award status would give the initial “no” voters the opportunity to verify our commitment to search for every offsetting dollar available for the project. The initial vote to support the project at the Aug. 24, 2022 meeting was adequate to apply for that funding. Rep. Turcotte is an active representative, so he most certainly has experience following meeting agendas and discussion. His statement about a rushed vote is difficult to reconcile with the reality, where the Republican delegates paused the meeting for more than 30 minutes to caucus. As a caucus is normally an opportunity to discuss agenda items requiring a vote, perhaps an opportunity was missed to get clarity.

One can’t help but notice that Rep. Turcotte’s entire commentary leaves out the most important aspect of this project — the sick and elderly people that Riverside Rest Home serves. His letter falsely speaks to “missing” facts that were addressed at a meeting he did not attend. Rep. Turcotte also fails to address that this project is more than a nursing home replacement. The proposed building supports efforts to help people age at home if they prefer and stay out of nursing homes longer. This is the only way that our long-term care system can continue to function and be affordable as our population of elderly will more than double in the next 20 years and triple in the next 40 years. This construction is a 50-year scalable project that meets many of the needs that come with that growth.

More: Strafford County nursing home project vote on hold, but optimism for passage builds

Rep. Turcotte’s quote “this is a county nursing home, not a high end luxury apartment complex” is simply inflammatory. There will never be confusion between the proposed nursing home and a “high end luxury apartment” but we absolutely believe our ill and elderly loved ones, having paid taxes their whole lives, deserve a safe, healthy space to live out their lives with dignity. We do not agree that quality end-of-life care should be restricted to people with big bank accounts, as Rep. Turcotte seems to be suggesting and we are sure that is not what the people he wants to represent for their loved ones.

Rep. Turcotte, you are respected as a very conservative representative. People depend on us to give them correct information to enable them to make decisions on important projects. We’re calling on you to attend the meetings you ask for to answer the questions you raise so you can provide complete and accurate information that the voters can rely on.

George Maglaras, chairman; Robert J. Watson, vice chairman; Deanna S. Rollo, clerk, are Strafford County commissioners.

This article originally appeared on Fosters Daily Democrat: Commentary: Strafford County NH commissioners defend nursing home plan