OF INGERSOLL AND BERGER KINGS

 

By Edwin D. Reilly, Jr.

For The Sunday Gazette

 

        This is the story of two institutions, both in Niskayuna, one that, despite loss of its mission, has asked the State to rescue it by allowing it to borrow nine million dollars, and one that, despite its unique and vital mission, the State wants to abolish because it owes (somewhat more than) nine million dollars. The first is the Ingersoll Memorial Home, and the second, of course, is the Bellevue Woman’s Hospital.

       I say that Ingersoll has lost its mission because in addition to its being a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization qualified to receive charity, it was also chartered under the George T. Ingersoll Trust of 1922 to dispense charity. It does that now through room rents subsidized by its dwindling endowment. But if the current 33-bed institution on 12 acres is moved to a new 78-bed facility on a cramped 4-acre lot on Consaul Road, which it can finance only through its proposed nine million dollar bond issue and selling its current historic 12.3-acre property, it will have a negative net worth and be unable to rent assisted living and Alzheimer’s rooms at any lower rate than its many for-profit competitors. Hence, no charity.

      Despite the claim by some that Ingersoll has all the approvals it needs to move, there is one final sticky wicket—the proposed Consaul Road site is not on a street having the public surface transportation that the Home’s governing Trust mandates. There will be bus service a quarter-mile away on Balltown, but near is not on—close counts only in horseshoes. Words have power, but only if their meaning is respected.

      And there will be a potentially terrible consequence if the new Attorney General allows the move. Through some terrible oversight not noticed by any of at least six past Town Supervisors, including myself, the beautifully landscaped parcel, historically called Locust Grove by the Stanford family, has been zoned commercial for decades. Not surprisingly then, a development company considers it an ideal site for a strip mall.

     The mansion at Locust Grove was built some time between 1814 and 1817 by Hermanus Schuyler, Town Supervisor from 1817 to 1821, and was also owned at a later date by John I. Vrooman, Supervisor in 1859, the year he sold the house and grounds to the parents of Leland and Charles Stanford, who passed it on to Charles and later his son Welton.

     Two days from today, Tuesday, January 23, at 7 o’clock at Town Hall on Nott Street East, the Niskayuna Town Board will hold a public hearing on the question of whether to grant a Special Use Permit that will permit the razing of much but not all of the current Ingersoll Home and surround the surviving Stanford mansion, retrofitted to be the Stanford House restaurant, with—at last I heard—a TGI Friday’s, a Red Robin, a bank, a Walgreen’s drug store right next to a Schenectady CVS, and two retail buildings. Please attend and tell the Board whether you do or do not share this vision for the site.

     The developers are not the villains here, nor are there any lurking elsewhere. Just as doctors doctor, tailors tailor, editors editorialize, and preservationist preserve (or try to), developers develop. The task here is to convince Niskayuna officials to heed the unanimous advice of its Conservation Advisory Council with regard to environmental impact and to scale down the plan to the extent that, at minimum, the Stanford House can be seen from both Balltown and State streets. As planned, diners at the House, will, should they dare gaze out a window, get a close-up view of a large loading dock at the rear of a humungous retail strip along State Street.

     I and my family have had a long and pleasant association with the Bellevue hospital. There is no finer human than Grace Jorgensen Westney, once the owner of the institution founded by her mother in 1931. Dr. Grace still practices there. Several of my grandchildren were born at Bellevue. Throughout my tenure as Town Supervisor, I did my best to help the hospital expand and prosper, risking the friendship of several neighboring constituents.

     I recall a Monday in 1997 when then Manager Mike Mangini asked me to stop by and chat. I did, and he informed me that Bellevue was in financial difficulty and must change from a privately-owned facility that paid substantial real estate taxes to a 501(c)3 not-for-profit charitable institution that would not be subject to taxation.

     Now, a decade later, the hospital is again in financial distress, and it all has to do with finances, not with the unquestioned excellence of the care it provides as one of only two exclusively women’s hospitals in the country. Apparently, the change to non-profit status has not solved the underlying financial problem. The state-authorized Berger Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century recommends that Bellevue “should close in an orderly fashion,” a phrase to rival “all deliberate speed” in a famous Supreme Court decision. (See www.nyhealthcarecommission.org/docs/final/commissionfinalreport.pdf.)

     Anne Saile, the current CEO of Bellevue, has been doing a great job rallying a legion of supporters to the plight of the hospital. She disputes a key figure in the Berger Report which states that the hospital has a “deficit” of several million dollars whereas the hospital’s deficit was only 1.19 million in 2004 and 1.32 million in 2005. Actually, the Berger report agrees with the latter two figures, contained in the hospital’s IRS 990 forms at  guidestar.com. The disagreement stems from one semantic slip in a passage that indicates that the report writers really do know the difference between annual deficits and a cumulative debt.

     The key passage reads “Financial statements for 2004 and 2005 indicate a negative net worth, significant deficits, and losses from operations. The hospital’s net deficits at the end of 2004 and 2005 were respectively $1.192 million and $1.320 million, and its total deficit (sic) as of the end of the 2005 year was $17.690 million.”

    Clearly, the word I sic’d should have been “debt,” not “deficit.” More substantively, that $17.690 million debt is, according to the 990 form filed in August 2006, “only” $12.67 million. Though the higher figure may be another error in the report, it is not likely that knowledge of the lower one would have swayed the Commission since even that figure is half of the hospital’s annual operating budget.

     It is admirable that a great effort is underway to persuade the state legislature to override the Commission’s Bellevue recommendation and allow the hospital to remain open. But the complete relief needed is a state appropriation of the roughly $13 million needed to retire this magnificent hospital’s debt so that, freed from the struggle to meet annual principal and interest payments, it has a reasonable chance to survive and continue its unique and valued mission.

     Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Ingersoll trustees should take note of what happens when an ailing non-profit tries to borrow its way out of financial difficulties.

 

Edwin D. Reilly, Jr. lives in Niskayuna and is a regular contributor to the Sunday opinion page.