Greenwich RTM Rejects Dr. Goldstein Nomination for Town-Owned Nursing Home Board; Approves Radulovacki. Kniffen Voted onto CMS building committee.

At Monday night’s full RTM meeting, the first after a summer break, the digital tabulator wasn’t functioning properly so the group reverted to paper ballots.

The meeting featured three controversial nominations that originated with the Board of Selectmen, where they were not unanimously supported.

On all three candidates, First Selectman Fred Camillo and Selectwoman Lauren Rabin voted yes and Democratic Selectwoman Janet Stone McGuigan voted no.

Ms Stone McGuigan, the lone Democrat on the board, testified that there had been better candidates for the nominations and a unanimous vote would have been possible.

Further she said the candidates she would have preferred did not come from her Democratic party.

The three candidates started with Jan Rogers Kniffen who sought a place on the Central Middle School building committee that was created when Greg Piccininno resigned.

The Central Middle School project has taken some time to get off the ground, due to issues on fully funding the project which is currently estimated to cost $112 million. The town missed the June 30 deadline to submit to the state for funding. And most recently, an interpretation of the town charter about the Municipal Improvement process by special counsel John Wetmore meant a request for interim appropriation of $42 million was put on hold.

Jan Roger Kniffen for Central Middle School Building Committee

The vote on Jan Kniffen Passes
121 Yes
78 No
4 Abstain

CMS parent, Janet McMahon from district 8 who is a delegate to the education committee, said while Mr. Kniffen had impressive credentials, when he was interviewed by the committee his “nonanswers” were concerning.

She said Kniffen was unable to answer basic and important questions about the team model and the education specs despite having sat in on weekly building committee meetings since July. She noted the building committee was required to adhere strictly to the ed specs.

State Rep Meskers (D-150) testifying before the RTM. Sept 18, 2023

State Rep Meskers (D-150), an RTM member from district 6, said there were already capable people involved in the CMS project who could get it moving along faster than Mr. Kniffen, and that there were concerted efforts afoot to delay the project.

“I’m worried that delays will provide me with problems in seeking reimbursement from the state,” he said.

“We’ve just been dropped a decision on Municipal Improvements, that despite all previous precedent we are no longer able to look for the appropriation. Without the appropriation I can’t argue to improve the reimbursement rate (from the state),” he added, referring to Mr. Wetmore’s memo.

Fred Camillo testifying before the RTM. Sept 18, 2023

First Selectman Fred Camillo said Mr. Kniffen came highly recommended and had both an amazing life story and career in retail and was also a successful litigation consultant.

He said he and Ms Rabin reached out to people on the Bruce Museum Board where he was chair and involved in the museum’s recent addition, working with Turner Construction, and they all spoke highly of him.

Cathy Steele from district 11 said Mr. Kniffen was likeable and had a quick wit, but she was concerned that he had donated to Harry Arora’s campaign for State Representative in district 151, and that created troubling “optics.”

“I realized it isn’t just any donation, and it isn’t just any nomination. Mr. Kniffen donated thousands to Mr. Arora. Mr. Arora’s wife, Nisha, is the BET member assigned to oversee the CMS budget. And Mrs. Arora is the one who nominated Mr. Kniffen for the committee. There is a connection here that is uncomfortable.”

Svetlana Wasserman described the process of getting CMS funded had become a “painful wound” in the community.

“There is no secret to why the delays are happening,” she said. “The Board of Education unanimously approved the ed specs for the building, but some on the BET, most vocally Nisha Arora and her husband, former State Rep Harry Arora, insist that the BOE rewrite the Ed Specs to build a smaller school.”

She noted that campaign finance reports indicated Kniffen and his wife contributed over $10,000 to the Mr. Arora’s campaign.

Lastly she suggested Steph Cowie, a disabilities rights advocate with children in Greenwich Public Schools, was already a non-voting member of the building committee and had attended all of its meetings.

“She applied for this position and was interviewed on May 18,” Wasserman said.

Cheryl Moss, chair of RTM district 8, testifying before the RTM. Sept 18, 2023

Cheryl Moss, chair of District 8, and parent of a CMS graduate, described the Kniffen appointment was “a final straw in what is clearly a politically motivated nomination.”

She said she feared Mr. Kniffen would add another vote against following the ed specs, and agreed Steph Cowie should not have been passed over.

“Mr. Kniffen was unable to answer any of the questions he was asked on the ed specs. His avoidance on answering questions during the interview show either a complete lack of interest in doing his homework or an effort to hide his true feelings about the project.”

Jan Rogers Kniffen testifying before the RTM. Sept 18, 2023

Mr. Kniffen testified on his own behalf.

“Here I am, a poor kid born near the coalmines of Southern Illinois, who worked his way through grade school, high school, college and graduate school. I was the first person in my family to go to college,” he added. “I climbed the ladder at two of the largest publicly traded companies in the country. All of that shows character and a willingness to work.”

What he said qualified him to work on the school building committee was the work he did on a nearly $70 million addition to the Bruce Museum, which he described as “truly a new building that gently wraps around the wonderful historic building that has long housed The Bruce.”

“I was the board chair that took the vote to fund and build the new building,” he said. “I shepherded it through the first three years of planning.”

Brad Radulovacki testifying before the RTM. Sept 18, 2023

Brad Radulovacki for Nathaniel Witherell Board

Vote on Brad Radulovacki Passes
122 Yes
75 No
2 Abstain

Controversy over the nomination of Brad Radulovacki was signaled last week when the Health and Human Services committee voted 5 no to 3 yes with 1 abstention. Alison Soler, chair of that committee, explained that those against the nomination were mainly concerned about Radulovacki’s views about privatizing the facility.

State Rep (D-150) Steve Meskers, who has a background of 30 years on Wall Street, said Mr. Radulovacki’s presentation on Witherell at a Finance Committee meeting in January was “skewed” toward privatization.

“I think if we’re looking to get an honest and balanced opinion to make a decision in the next year to two years, we need to bring in people who are open-minded,” he said. “I’m not sure this is the right candidate. I urge you to vote no.”

Lauren Rabin defended Mr. Radulovacki, saying when he was interviewed he came across as open minded and had talked about ways of outsourcing some financial functions as a way to bring the operating model more in line.

“Nathaniel Witherell is a great place. My mom is actually a resident there and is very happy,” Rabin said. “I would not put someone forward who would put my mother in jeopardy.”

Sheilah Smith, vice chair of the Family Council, talked about the decline in the facility’s 5-star rating to 1-star (today it is back up to 2-stars) under the Camillo administration.

“Witherell was 5-stars until a few years ago, when we had a new administration in town hall that put an enormous amount of pressure on Witherell to cut the budget, and there were several key nursing and CNA positions that were cut. That was the first decline in ratings. Make no bones about it, it didn’t just happen coincidentally.”

She described Mr. Radulovacki as a franchise investor in an urgent care facility in Stamford, not a manager or operator.

Elizabeth Quigley, from the Witherell Family Council, testified at the RTM meeting. Sept 18, 2023

Elizabeth Quigley, also from the Witherell Family Council warned that candidates tell people what they want to hear in order to secure votes.

She agreed Radulovacki’s presentation as part of the Finance Committee was skewed toward privatization.

She quoted Radulovacki referring to the Witherell as “structurally impaired municipal ownership” and that he had also noted in the same report that the Nathaniel Witherell had enjoyed high occupancy relative to nursing home peers.

“However, it fails to provide the reason. The reason is found in the financial review section: Union employees,” Quigley said.”It is the fact that the Witherell, as a town department, provides union wages for workers who are elsewhere paid far less. This union labor provides the stability a long-term care needs to maintain a high level of care for its residents.”

“How is it that our town’s growing, sick or elderly population that cannot remain at home, is not worth the $1 or $2 million a year in funding, or even more?” she asked.

First Selectman Camillo spoke in favor of Mr. Radulovacki, saying he was one of the most qualified people the Selectmen had ever interviewed for the Witherell board.

“He had a really successful career. The last ten years he shifted over to health care and urgent care with a special focus on affordability and accessibility to healthcare. He also has extensive participation in three global initiatives at his alma mater, Northwestern.”

“I find it a little offensive that some people continuously come up and make comments about people who want to help, who want to roll their sleeves up and have the exact skill sets that we need to turn this around, and that they’re somehow motivated by greed,” Camillo said.

Christine Edwards testified at the RTM meeting. Sept 18, 2023

Christine Edwards urged colleagues to vote no on the Radulovacki nomination, saying she had spent a few months at Nathaniel Witherell herself and that her husband had been a social worker there.

She said it was a plus that many employees work there for decades.

“If you look at quality of care the most important thing you can do is pay people a good salary. …what we need is someone who sees what this facility has been. …I’d rather not have a situation where I have to send a relative up to Torrington because we have a privatization going on at Nathaniel Witherell.”

Mr. Radulovacki testified on his own behalf, saying he had spent two years studying the facility and and attending its board meetings, and was familiar with its issues. He insisted he had not made up his mind about privatization.

“If we can achieve the goals through improved care for residents along with more efficient and effective operations through self management, I am prepared to support that,” he said.

He said that after a successful 25-year career on Wall Street he had switched to urgent care as a second career for a “substantial, meaningful, impactful venture.”

He said urgent care was essentially affordable, accessible primary care that everyone needs and improves healthcare outcomes, and that, for example, his company won a city contract in Stamford for workers compensation services and now the police force, fire dept and school teachers all come to his center for top-notch care.

“I’m very interested in helping Witherell provide the best care for its residents, to improve the current difficult situation the nursing home finds itself in.”

Dr. Michael Goldstein for Nathaniel Witherell Board

The vote on Dr. Goldstein Fails
85 Yes
105 No
3 Abstain

The nomination of Dr. Michael Goldstein, an Ophthalmologist who is also an attorney with extensive hospital management experience was rejected.

Many remember that in 2022 Dr. Goldstein sought the Republican nomination to run for Congress in in the 4th Congressional District of Connecticut.

In recent days his social media posts about vaccinations, masking and event 9/11 were circulated.

(Nathaniel Witherell Family Council: Michael Goldstein is Uniquely Unqualified for Board Sept 18)

Alison Soler chair of HHS said her committee has voted 1-6-2 against his nomination.

Amy Badini co-chair of the Witherell Family Council, said her 79-year-old mother with end stage dementia resides at the Witherell, and had been incredibly well cared for over the past 7 years.

“She never had a bed sore, aspiration pneumonia and she has her same certified nursing assistants since she’s been there. They are angels.”

Badini explained that the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 established Family Councils in all nursing homes.

“One reason for creating a Family Council is to protect families from retaliation. Our loved ones rely entirely on the staff for every single one of their needs,” she said.

“After the Witherell Family Council submitted our letter opposing the nomination of Dr. Goldstein, he quickly replied with direct disparaging remarks about me, personally. This antagonistic reply clearly shows his lack of understanding of Family Councils, something he should have researched before accepting the nomination.”

“The way Mr. Goldstein conducted himself over the past few days – you’ve all received those emails – to us is not the way we want the board of directors to behave. His opposition to Covid vaccination mandates gives us great concern about other medical decisions that may arise in future. The essence of the governing body of the Witherell is to ensure our loved ones are protected. You must not put someone on the board who has demonstrated that he may not have the temperament to collaborate with families who may have different opinions.”

Badini added Family Councils were not political.

“Someone said we oppose because of a political party. This is a human issue. We the Family Council are not anti-Republican, and know there were other Republican candidates who are still willing and able to do the work.”

Badini said she was unaffiliated but has voted Republican in the past, both locally and in federal elections.

“But to me the local Republican party has gone so far to the right that I can’t blindly just support them on every single issue,” she added. “We need to get back to voting on issues.”

Beth MacGillivray, who is the Chair of the Greenwich Republican Town Committee, spoke in support of Dr. Goldstein.

“He would bring dedication and expertise to the Witherell board. His resumé and qualifications are truly outstanding in health services. We need to fill these seats that have been available for an extensive period. On a 9-member board, he can provide one perspective critical to the nursing home business.”

“It’s no secret that Nathaniel Witherell has struggled in recent times,” MacGillivray continued. “A lack of oversight, and failure to employ an accounts receivable specialist to collect money and handle financial matters has led to considerable losses. We must acknowledge the consequences of this negligence and look to turn the situation around. We need qualified individuals now.”

State Rep Meskers urged the RTM to vote no on Dr. Goldstein. He said regardless of the doctor’s intentions about privatization, his social media posts made him an inappropriate candidate.

“His posts on social media regarding vaccines, regarding religious exemptions from vaccines, regarding mask wearing brings tremendous concern to me,” he said. “If we are looking at our most vulnerable residents we need people not only to uphold the letter of the law, but people who can enforce and encourage the spirit of the law.”

Selectwoman Lauren Rabin testified in favor of Dr. Goldstein, noting that the Selectmen had interviewed him two years earlier, during Covid.

“So, of course, vaccination was a key component in not moving forward,” she said. “But he has a lot of experience with geriatric patients. He has patients as old as 105. He said the Witherell was an essential government service…”

“He had no fixed agenda and wold be objective,” she added.

Sheilah Smith also testified against Dr. Goldstein.

“I’m not too interested in someone’s personal opinion about whether or not they should be vaccinated. This comes down to what the law was. A couple years ago there was a federal and state mandate that healthcare workers had to be vaccinated. Dr. Goldstein, rather than get vaccinated, gave up his operating privileges at a New York Hospital and actually was passed over for a slot on the Witherell because he wouldn’t get vaccinated,” she said.

“So why are we back here today? This is somebody who wouldn’t have upheld the law. This is wrong. There are so many candidates.”

She said 40 Witherell residents died of Covid, and 266 had been infected, including two people just this week.

“If we need a doctor on the board, let’s find one who believes in the science and upholds the law,” she added.

Fred Camillo urged people to vote Dr. Godlstein. He recalled that two years earlier the doctor “graciously stepped aside” after he shared that due to a medical issue he was not vaccinated during interviews.

“We did tell him that if something changed with that condition or if we got beyond the pandemic we would be wiling to interview him again. That’s exactly what happened.”

As for privatizing the facility, Camillo said the doctor had stated he was not sure if he favored going to a third party or staying as a town department.

“He agrees with most of us that the way we go about it has to change,” Camillo added.

Dr. Goldstein had the last word.

As for his Covid vaccines he said those who said he had to be vaccinated to continue at one of the hospital systems he was affiliated with, did not his temporary medical waiver.

“In the end it was not approved, and I had to make a medical decision whether I listen to my doctors or a board of people who did not have my best interest in mind and I chose to, in the best interest of my health, this was a harmful thing to me, that this was the right thing.”

“I see the Witherell as a very, very troubled institution, which is both financially an care-wise has deteriorated. The question is how do you fix it?” he asked. “The fundamental economic problem is it has a large percentage of patients that are treated as lower than the cost it takes to care for them, and the money to cover that needs to come from somewhere. The ideal scenario is you have enough patients who are fully insured, fully paying, to make up the difference. So far we don’t have that. We need to attract more people who are fully paying and you can’t do that at a 2-star facility.”

Second he said if there wasn’t enough money coming in from nursing home patients, there might be other services to consider offering.

“One of the growing areas is the idea of day nursing home care,” he said. “There are many people that don’t necessarily want to put their family loved one in a nursing home, but they’d like someone to take care of them during the day, some of the time, and maybe all of the time.”

Lastly, he lashed out at State Rep Meskers.

“If Mr. Meskers really wanted to do something for nursing homes, he should understand that we lose $60,000 per year on every Medicaid patient. Let him as a legislator go and help us fight for higher reimbursement so we can actually do a better job, rather than criticize me or anybody else.”

“I think it’s really disturbing to think people have these horrible opinions of me when they’re not even based on fact, and not even true,” he added. “I seem to be the target of many attacks. I did this from the bottom of my heart.”

With Goldstein’s failure to be endorsed by the RTM, there remains a position on the Witherell Board of Directors to fill.