Really, it is.
Almost exactly a year ago we had our first meeting about the Genesee County Nursing Home. We sat around a table at our 'headquarters,' which is to this day a sample table at my place of business. We smoked too many cigarettes (I still can't quit) and discussed the importance of the home as a safety net for the indigent, a diamond in a place filled with cubic zirconium and the gold standard for elder care in the Genesee region.
When the meeting was almost over the point was brought up that our opposition to the sale of the home needed a public voice. During the ensuing silence, I felt the expectant looks of a couple people who own all of my respect and I said, 'No, absolutely not.'
I had just taken a horrible drubbing in my bid for the legislature and I had no appetite for publicity. I had concerns that any attempt of mine to publicly back a cause of any sort would be seen as politically driven. I wasn't interested in taking on any sort of extra responsibility and I had no desire to lose. In short, every objection I had to opening my notoriously big mouth last December was driven by a selfishness that I am now ashamed to admit.
Then my good friend Bea put in me in my place. She reminded me that the night my ass was thoroughly kicked by the man I challenged in the 2009 election I said that I would continue to be involved in the community. I said it to a reporter from The Daily News which was stupid because when you say things to reporters they tend to write them down verbatim. After this happens, your ability to squirm out of responsibility for those words decreases exponentially....dammit.
Bea gave me a scolding, as is her way, and I opened my mind to the possibility, as is mine.
I started the Facebook page a few days later, taped up my hands, put on the boxing gloves and prepared myself for a scrap. Since then I have made more than a few mistakes and, with the help of some great people, I've done a couple things right as well. I want to talk about all of that now, particularly the mistakes, and let you judge for yourselves how we got to this place.
A week or so after the Facebook page was up I got a call at work from a local reporter. She ran a story the next day about our objections as well as the county's side of the story. We had the Assistant County Manager on record saying that sale was definitely the direction they were headed so the backpedaling and qualifying statements from county leadership immediately stuck in my craw. Certain county electeds were privately discussing the sale of the home as a done deal prior to our push-back and that smirking, smarmy take on the situation irked me as well. The public hadn't had their say yet and it's been said about this issue and many others that our county-wide elected officials seem to think that they represent the county to us instead of representing us to the county. I thought it was time to put a stop to that attitude so we sent a few shots across the bow on The Batavian and a few more in The Daily News.
We had a couple more meetings, smoked more cigarettes and tried to plan a strategy. We wanted to encourage participation from members of the public so I sent a few messages to the now hundreds of members of our Facebook site and asked them to share their experiences and feelings about the home. Folks were more than willing to participate; here are a few samples:
After all of that there was a small question about math. It was just one instance in a long line of head shaking moments in the Year of our Lord 2010, but it was certainly an accurate sample of the strange larger picture. This was the result:
After the mathematical dispute I found myself attempting to explain IGT's, federal contributions and general monetary and budgetary process to folks who were interested in the answers right until I started discussing financial match money, the general fund, etc... This was the point where I realized that the glaze covering a person's eyes falls directly in proportion to the mathematical difficulty of your last sentence. So I had an idea.
In retrospect, Mr. Hens, the County Highway Superintendent, didn't deserve the amount of abuse he had to absorb due to the Airport, Bad; Nursing Home, Good stunt, but we had to prove a point and it certainly worked. The whole issue at that point was about what our county was willing to spend money on and what it wasn't. When the elderly and indigent are expected to buck up and take it while people who own their own planes are given a place to park them...well, you get the point.
Sometime during all of this I was on local television which I thought was completely surreal. This was when I really started feeling the pressure as well. More on that after I finish up the flashback portion of this blog.
In a poor coincidence of scheduling, the consulting RFP came up for a vote right at that time, so I called a few friends and sent out another Facebook message. We went in and kicked a little ass. My friend and City of Batavia Councilwoman of 16 years, Rose Mary Christian grabbed a sign and sat right in the front row. Bea McManis spoke for the senior citizens of Genesee County and I gave a speech that I had written fifteen minutes before I left work that night and was very proud of. It was a moment of community activism that I had never seen in my small town. A woman named Carol Mosicki showed up outside the County Courthouse with a petition to help abused women, a large group of supporters gathered to help our cause and I gave an impromptu speech on the courthouse steps.
I'll never forget that day, not just because it was a triumph, but because it was the last time I was able to do anything truly meaningful in support of the nursing home cause.
It probably wasn't the end of my value to the fight, but it was the end of my effectiveness. You see, almost from beginning to end I was involved in a personal failure. My wife of four years and I had decided to get divorced and, by early summer, my mind had become clouded by personal concerns. I'm not ashamed of that; I think any other person would have become distracted by any singular matter of great importance. I am ashamed that I wasn't able to share these problems with other people who were personally invested in he nursing home issue. I made some promises to them that I wasn't able to keep and I'm sorry for that. The website never got off the ground, the summer picnic didn't happen, the things I wanted to do were cast by the wayside. Enough of that.
Then something else happened.
Late-summer 2010, my grandmother needed surgery...again. She's had circulation problems for a few years now and, after numerous medical procedures and hospital stays, her doctor recommended that the bottom part of her right leg be amputated. To make a long and emotionally difficult story short, my grandmother, the bravest, toughest, most perfect woman I know, opted for the amputation. She was sent to the Genesee County Nursing Home for rehabilitation and physical therapy.
You see where this is going? There are more than a few candidates for sainthood in that facility. They cared for my grandmother. They fed my grandfather while he watched over her bed. They did what they do for residents of our county every day and God damn anyone who wants to put an end to that.
The first night I visited her she told me that I had to keep the home just the way it was.
Earlier that day, my uncle, who had never mentioned the place to me, told me that if I was involved in the fight to keep the home I needed to continue.
My father told me how wonderful the staff had been to him.
I gave encouragement. I nodded my head. I told them I'd do what I could. I knew that, whatever was going to happen, it was too late for me to have any effect on the outcome. I never said so.
Today, it was made public that the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester recommends that Genesee County keep its nursing home with a few tweaks.
What's the moral of this story?
I suppose it's whatever you want it to be.
Personally, I think I failed at my appointed task. I could have done more. I could have worked harder. I could have followed through with more vigor, more attitude, more...simply more.
The reality here is that CGR's recommendation is an honest take on what the home means to Genesee County past, present and future. There's a certain vanity in my soul that wants to take some credit for the verdict, a poorly developed id that wants to own a victory and claim moral and intellectual superiority, but ego be damned. I feel good today because my faith in the RIGHT THING has been reinforced. I don't know if I had an effect on the outcome and I don't care.
The reality of the situation was proven to fall in favor of those ideals I hold close. Care for the poor, the indigent, those among us who need our help. That amounts to a win for all of us.