October 10, 2007


Northwoods owners found guilty of neglect

Northwoods with Bus

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
A transit van leaves the parking lot of Northwoods Tuesday. Highgate LTCManagement LLC, which owns Northwoods, was found guilty of patient neglect.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — After four hours of deliberation Tuesday, jurors delivered a guilty verdict against a company that owns a local nursing home for failing to provide adequate care to a comatose patient and falsifying paperwork to cover it up.
Highgate LTC Management LLC, which owns the Northwoods Extended Care and Rehabilitation Facility on Kellogg Road in Cortland, was found guilty on six counts of violating public health laws and three counts of second-degree falsifying business records, misdemeanors.
Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 14. According to state statutes, Highgate, based in Niskayuna, Schenectady County, faces a possible fine or either a conditional or unconditional discharge for being convicted of the crimes.
The state Attorney General’s Office can also restrict the company from receiving Medicaid payments at any of the nursing home facilities Highgate maintains.
“Obviously we are very disappointed with the verdict,” said defense attorney David Rothenberg, of Rochester.
Rothenberg declined to comment further.
Representatives of Highgate were not available for comment on the verdict or what will happen to the pending sale of four of the seven nursing homes the company owns.
The four nursing homes, including the facility in Cortland, were placed under receivership after the indictment.
The verdict came after closing arguments Tuesday morning.
Rothenberg argued that the evidence was unrelated to the charges in the 2006 indictment Highgate was accused of after a three-month investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s Office from January to March 2005.
“All the evidence is either incomplete, inaccurate, or misleading,” Rothenberg told the jury. “The evidence is of disorganized thinking.”
Assistant Attorney General Ralph Tortora, of the Medicaid Fraud Bureau, countered Rothenberg’s argument by focusing on the lack of staffing at the Cortland facility.
“It can only operate through its employees. The employees are the agents of Highgate,” he said. “Highgate — the facility and the staff — had a responsibility to provide the care and services the care plan called for.”
The Attorney General’s Office placed a hidden camera in the room of a comatose resident at the nursing home to run 24 hours a day for the three-month period.
The prosecution showed the jury one video clip during closing arguments, which showed a nurses’ aide turning and repositioning the man by herself. The patient’s care plan stated the man was to be turned and repositioned every two hours by two people because of his size and condition.
Five Northwoods employees who were nurses and nurses’ aides pleaded guilty earlier this year to various counts of the same charges the company faced in connection with the _investigation.



County considering future of south Main St. properties

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The county’s General Services Committee Tuesday took a small first step toward determining what the county will do with recently acquired property on south Main Street
County officials stressed that any substantive discussion of uses for the property is still a long way off.
The committee instructed County Administrator Scott Schrader to begin meeting with county department heads to determine if the space could accommodate departments currently housed in the County Office Building, potentially clearing space for the cramped Department of Mental Health in the building.
The Legislature in December 2006 voted to purchase nine parcels along south Main Street for $894,000 in order to construct a building that would house both the Health Department and the Department of Mental Health.
The Legislature backed out of those agreements in January, prompting a legal challenge in which a judge ruled the county had violated a valid contract to purchase the properties.
At its Sept. 27 meeting, the Legislature voted to purchase the two nonresidential properties involved in the deal and attempt to reach settlements with other property owners.
But what the county will do with the two properties — the Moose Lodge property at 158 Main St. and Robbins Vending property at 159 Main St. — has still not been determined.
Schrader said the two properties alone did not offer enough space for a public health facility, but that potentially moving a department out of the County Office Building would free up space for the Department of Mental Health.
“That way we could still consolidate services between the Health Department and Mental Health,” Schrader said.
Schrader would not say at this point what options could work on the south Main Street site; however, he said he would be looking for a department that is “not so reliant on other departments for services they provide,” and one that “would be more attractive” to its users in another location.
Creating space for any county department would require new construction, he said.
“I think it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that the buildings will have to go,” he said of the structures purchased on south Main Street. “I hope that if we’ve learned anything based on experience (with the County Office Building), it’s that we shouldn’t take an existing structure and try to make it work for our own purposes.”
Legislature Chairman Marilyn Brown (D-8th Ward) said she would like to have proposals to consider by next month.



County settles on Page Green Road repairs

Contractor, state to pay about $250,000 to repave a strip of defective roadway

Staff Reporter

A dispute with a contractor over unsatisfactory work on a portion of Page Green Road has been settled, and work on the road should be finished within the next couple of weeks, the Cortland County Highway Committee was told Tuesday.
The county will have to pay $3,500 of the roughly $250,000 cost of fixing the portion of road, a small price, county officials said, compared to the potential cost of taking legal action against the contractor.
The contractor, Binghamton-based Contour Construction, which had been denying responsibility for pavement failure issues along a portion of the road finished in late 2006, will contribute $178,000 to the repairs, while the state Department of Transportation will contribute $70,000.
“The bottom line is the taxpayers are going to get the road they paid for,” said County Highway Superintendent Don Chambers.
Chambers told the committee that the agreement had been brokered with cooperation from the DOT, which has procedures in place for dealing with disputes such as this.
“Is it the absolute best we could hope for? No,” said County Administrator Scott Schrader, who said he felt the contractor was fully responsible for the issues. “But it avoids a protracted legal battle and frankly it will provide a stable driving surface where, right now, we don’t have one.”
The initial reconstruction work on the portion of Page Green Road running from Ely Road and Congdon Lane was completed in November 2006, Chambers told the committee.
“We had concerns about the quality of workmanship within days after it was paved the first time,” Chambers said.
The quality of the materials used for the road — the asphalt and the granular subbase — did not appear to meet the specifications outlined in the county’s contract with the contractor, Chambers said in August. Over the course of the summer the road began breaking apart, causing cracks and potholes.
The county formally rejected that portion of road in June, and met with the DOT regarding the issue three weeks ago, Deputy Highway Superintendent Bob Buerkle told the committee.
Contour Construction has already removed the asphalt that was laid down in 2006 and stabilized the existing subbase, and is in the process of laying down new asphalt, Chambers said.
The new asphalt, mixed by Suit-Kote, will cost roughly $70,000, Chambers told the committee.




Family, friends search for missing Homer man

Philip Leet, 67, was last seen Monday afternoon riding a bicycle toward McGraw on Port Watson St.

Philip Leet

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — About 20 family and friends joined local search and rescue officials on Snell Hill Road this morning to continue looking for Philip L. Leet, a Homer man missing since Monday.
Leet, 67, of 7 Prospect St. in Homer, was last seen heading out of the city of Cortland on his bicycle and the search is now focused on the hills above McGraw.
He’s the caretaker for a small nearby cabin and his stepdaughter, Stacy Denger of Nazareth, Pa., said the Homer Police Department had repeatedly patrolled the area Tuesday.
“It’ll be 48 hours, at about 4 o’clock today, since the last time anyone saw him,” Denger said as the group gathered in the cool damp air at the top of a hill.
At about 2:30 Monday afternoon, Leet was spotted at Wilson Farms on North Main Street in Cortland. Denger said the store manager is now looking through security tapes to try to make out what Leet had purchased.
He was later seen crossing over the Port Watson Street bridge, heading toward McGraw on his way out of the city.
Stacy Denger’s son, Jeff Denger, lives with Leet and his wife of 15 years, Carol Leet.
“He takes care of the cabin for a lady who lives in Germany,” Jeff Denger said. “He came up here a lot and sometimes he would spend the night.”
The Dengers said Leet’s disappearance is “very uncharacteristic.”
“He wouldn’t go a meal without contacting my mother,” Stacy Denger said. “He’s just a very, very dedicated husband and a good grandfather.”
Leet is a retired Rochester-area shop teacher and is the handyman for the Christian Assembly of God on Port Watson Street.
He is of medium build, with gray-white hair and a white beard. He has brown eyes and wears glasses and may be wearing a blue and gray jacket with blue jeans.
He was last seen riding a bluish-gray 10-speed bicycle with a headlight and taillight and a large sideview mirror. The bike may have a small fanny pack strapped to its curved handlebars.
Leet’s family said he had the flu in the three days before his disappearance and that medications he was taking might have made him disoriented.



End in sight on city code revisions

Staff Reporter

The committee charged with revising the city’s Code of Ordinances hopes to wrap up its review next week and then forward the proposed revisions to the city’s land use attorneys for review.
Committee Chair Nancy Hansen, who is also the chair of the city Planning Commission, said she hopes the revisions would be adopted by the end of the year.
But the next step toward resolving controversy regarding neighborhood density and rental properties still needs to be taken: a revision of the city’s zoning district map.
The committee reviewed the regulations governing the city’s Historic District Commission at a meeting Tuesday night and began discussing sign regulations, which is probably the most complicated section of the code.
After meeting nearly every week since August, the committee wants to finish up the sections of the code dealing with signs at a meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 17.
Made up of city and county code and zoning officials, and Planning Commission and Historic District Commission members, the ad hoc code revision committee had been reviewing the existing Code of Ordinances since shortly after they were adopted in 2003.
The committee began the process in earnest at the end of July when it began a line-by-line examination of changes proposed up until that point.
The push for the revisions to the code came out of a public outcry at the perceived encroachment of rental housing into formerly entirely residential neighborhoods; many of the complaints are centered on the effects of so many college students being housed in close proximity to year-round residents.
If the revision process is judged to be complete after next week’s meeting, the altered Code of Ordinances would then be given over to Skaneateles-based law firm Cheney & Blair.