Sunnydale Rest Home in East Podunk, NY, has come up with a unique way to cut costs that has caught the attention of state lawmakers.
"Our operating costs have skyrocketed at the same time reimbursements have declined." says Neil Barrington, administrator at Sunnydale. "We were on the verge of a real crisis here, and were considering shutting down the operation completely." However, a chance combination of events this past summer have enabled the facility to balance it's budget and remain open for business.
"One of the biggest expenses we had was our dietary department." says Barrington. "We were going through tens of thousands of dollars each month just to put a basic three meals a day on the table for our residents. It was just not sustainable."
However, late last August a facility wide power outage led to an unexpected solution to the problem. Several residents had passed away, and without power the on-site morgue was too warm to store the bodies safely. So, a quick thinking orderly placed them in the large walk in freezer where temperatures were more stable until they could be picked up by the area's funeral home. But the orderly neglected to inform the kitchen staff, who arrived as usual at 4 am to begin preparing the day's meals.
"They went in, gathered what they had on hand, and started prepping for the day." said Barrington. "And evidently our head cook had been out drinking the night before and was a bit hung-over, so, wasn't really paying attention to what he was doing, and to make a long story short some of our residents ended up in the hash."
Barrington paused a moment, then went on. "It sounds horrible, I know, and I was outraged at first, but the hash came out really good. Everyone kept asking what we did different this time. I didn't have the heart to tell them.."
Indeed, the hash was so popular that residents and visitors came back for seconds, and thirds. "It was gone by 9 am." says Barrington. "We even had some visitors ask us for the recipe. We told them it was an old family secret. And when the funeral home finally showed up, we told them we had an on-site crematorium and had taken care of everything already. Then we dumped a couple of ashtrays into a baggie for the families and hoped to put the whole unfortunate episode behind us."
But the incident gave Barrington an idea. "We recycle cans, bottles, paper, why not our residents? It just seems like a waste to dispose of perfectly good meat, especially now with the economy so bad. And, with all the money we've been saving we've been able to provide our residents with some extra 'perks', like better bingo prizes and even some day trips to the city, which they just love."
89 year old Samuel Gottfried is one of them. "Last week we all went to the museums, and had lunch at that deli where the stars eat, it was real nice. We've been doing a lot of stuff like that lately, and they've been feeding us real good too. I don't how they're affording it, but I'm not complaining. It beats sitting around watching Wheel of Fortune all day."
Sunnydale's unique solution to their budget crisis has not escaped the attention of state lawmakers, including Governor David Paterson. The governor hailed the idea as an example of "the kind of outside-the-box thinking that we need right now". Paterson is proposing legislation to expand the program state-wide, and says New York could see millions of dollars in savings in the first year alone.
Paterson and other lawmakers recently attended a luncheon at Sunnydale. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) praised the multi-course banquet, which included a standing rib roast, scallopine w/ rice, and a popular garlic Alfredo dish.
Schumer said, "Barrington's idea is going to revolutionize the nursing home industry. Since long term care is a significant portion of the health care budget, these kinds of savings are going to free up an incredible amount of revenue. This will be a major factor in getting a universal heath care bill passed." He paused to take a bite of scallopine. "And, I'll tell you. It may sound cliche, but they really do taste just like chicken."