CAMILLO: Multi-Million Dollar Annual Subsidies at Witherell Are Unfair to Taxpayers

Submitted by Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo

The recent news about Nathaniel Witherell (TNW) has again put the old question about whether the Town should be in the nursing home business back in the spotlight. As a Townie who’s had many relatives there over the years, as a volunteer, and as a longtime supporter (whether as an RTM member, CT House of Representatives member, or as a private citizen), I always supported the present structure of operations. However, I can understand why there are those who believe TNW should be run by a private entity.

When elected as First Selectman in 2019, I saw first-hand the many issues that come with running such a facility, and not just the yearly subsidy that taxpayers provide. I was met with grievances, employee complaints, operational issues, and other instances where time, effort, and money were spent because TNW was a town department. All this was in addition to the average yearly plus subsidy we incurred, which since fiscal year 2013-2014 has totaled $35 million (not to mention over $8 million in other subsidies from various sources which brings the nine year total to over $43 million). This was all before we hired the current Executive Director, John Mastronardi, who quickly found and addressed many inefficiencies that were contributing to the subsidies. Without his efforts, that $43 million figure would be higher with no end in sight. He has given hope to those who want to see it remain a town department. 

I mention this because a narrative is being put out by some members of the TNW Family Council which ignores all the aforementioned facts and tries to place blame on anyone seeking an honest accounting and discussion of all options.  A council member at the recent RTM meeting spoke of all ills associated with the recent downgrade rating as coming from “Town Hall “.  A recent caller to the weekly radio show I do on WGCH suggested that everything was “fine” until we decided to try and cut costs.

Regarding the former, the Town has always funded this facility, and will continue to do so until its future is decided by the TNW board. We do so because Witherell provides long-term care and residence for the vulnerable elderly, as well as post-surgical rehabilitation for adults of any age. In owning the Nathaniel Witherell, our Town does something pretty rare these days: it takes care of its own – meaning the retired police, teachers, firefighters, librarians, caretakers, gardeners, and others in our community who once worked here but cannot afford the depth and breadth of care needed that the wealthier residents in our community enjoy. That we can “do unto others” is something Greenwich should be very proud of.

However, the critics seem to ignore the fact that running deficits that amount to over $5 million a year is not normal nor acceptable. To the point made by the caller on the radio, not all was good. These yearly subsidies alone should have been a wake up call, but the other issues that come with operational ownership compound that and are not fair to the taxpayers of Greenwich, the families of those in TNW, and especially so for the residents of TNW. 

My concern has been to right the ship while seeing if there is a better way to deliver care to our residents. So, that was the reason for my putting out the RFP (request for proposals) last year and why we are doing our due diligence right now. The RFP had a quality-of-care component in it that, while relieving the town of the financial burden, still calls for Town oversight.

I will not wish the problems away, nor kick the can down the road. The question has gone on long enough. Every taxpayer, TNW resident, and family member of TNW residents deserves an honest and transparent discussion, not false narratives based on one’s preferred outcome.

We need to provide the NW board with all pertinent information and facts so that they can make an informed decision that would allow our residents to go to sleep at night without worrying about an uncertain future and be confident that care will be delivered in the best possible way.

The time has come. Our residents and families deserve that.

 Fred Camillo
Greenwich, CT