United Helpers CEO says organizations must adapt to state's failure to invest in senior care

Posted 4/19/24

OGDENSBURG -- United Helpers CEO Todd Amo says the organization has had to make some tough decisions in recent years , but unless New York State makes drastic investments in the industry, the company …

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United Helpers CEO says organizations must adapt to state's failure to invest in senior care


OGDENSBURG -- United Helpers CEO Todd Amo says the organization has had to make some tough decisions in recent years , but unless New York State makes drastic investments in the industry, the company will likely continue shrinking its nursing services and grow in other areas.

For many, that’s a frustrating thought. United Helpers was one of the only providers of assisted living services in the region and once the Maplewood facility in Canton officially closes in May, it will leave a hole that’s unlikely to be replaced.

Amo said that the decision wasn’t made lightly. He said the operation was losing money and that for more than a year the company sought for a way to keep it solvent.

“Closing the facility isn’t something we wanted to do,” he said.

Amo said that since the closure, many people have been mad and he doesn’t blame them.

“People should be mad. They should be mad at the fact that the government has not prioritized that population. They should be mad that those people that trail-blazed our country, those 70-, 80- and 90-year-olds aren’t a priority for our government,” he said.

United Helpers is one of St. Lawrence County’s largest employers with roughly 650 employees across its for profit and non-profit ventures.

Non-profit services provided by the company include two behavioral health clinics, assertive community treatment, supportive housing, Gateway Apartment Treatment, Health Home Care Coordination and 10 IRA Small group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

Although United Helpers got its start more than 125 years ago as an orphanage, in recent decades it’s become more synonymous as a nursing home service and senior care provider.

Amo says that despite recent struggles, the company doesn’t plan on going anywhere, but as it has in the past, the organization needs to be adaptable and unless the Governor and majority leaders decide to support the industry, the company will continue to shift focus into more sustainable services.

Lawmakers don’t care

“I’ve been in the business for over 30 years. Many of my colleagues have said to me, and the board members have said to me, we have to get to our legislators. We have to educate our legislators to let them know what’s happening,” he said.

But Amo has a different take on the matter.

“The legislators, those that are in control, know exactly what’s happening.” he said in a recent interview. “State lawmakers in control of making decisions have shown that taking care of seniors is not their priority.”

Amo said that the nursing home industry is reliant on state Medicaid reimbursements, but despite huge changes in the economy, massive inflation and rising costs in nearly every aspect of American life, rates haven’t changed since 2007.

 He also noted that the state imposes a variety of minimum staffing requirements, which it fines organizations for failing to meet, despite acknowledging the employment shortage and a refusal to provide reimbursements at a level that would allow for more competitive wages to address the problem.

It’s simply not a sustainable model, he says.

“I tried to say to them, look what’s happening to our senior population. Look what’s happening to the rates. And what I’ve come to the conclusion is that they already know. And it’s their choice,” he said.

Amo said if you want to see what people care about, looking at their checkbook is a sure way to find out. In New York state, he says it’s plain to see that care for seniors isn’t something they care about.

Amo did point out that local state representatives have been shaking their heads at the lack of investment in the industry, but being in the minority party they aren’t part of the conversation.

 He also added that the current budget process also seems to exclude much of the majority party from the actual decision-making as well.

Shifting focus

“The avenue that we have taken is I chose not to fight the government anymore,” he said. “I’m done. Because it’s not about educating them anymore. It’s three people in a room fighting over billions of dollars and I have no say in that. I’ve done all I can do.”

Amo said instead, the company is focusing on questions it has more control over.

“How can we supplement?... How can we dig deep? Because the government’s not going to save us, so how are we going to save ourselves? How are we going to be here 125 years from now? What is my legacy as a CEO going to be? Did I just throw up my hands or did I try?.. What does the community need? How can we support our community? How can we support our mission through the for profit lens?”

Amo said that when an organization like United Helpers makes decisions, it’s multi-faceted. The decisions impact not only the patrons, but the employees, the families of both and the area’s economy. So what’s that mean for United Helpers? What will the company look like in 10 years?

Amo admits that it’s hard to predict the future, but in general he hopes to see United Helpers grow its for-profit offerings to offset costs in its nonprofit services and he believes there will be a shift from nursing services to mental health services over time, which has already begun.

That’s in part because the state is more willing to invest in mental health care, but also because it’s a growing need in the area as the state has moved away from inpatient care.

Amo also expects that the company which is spread over multiple communities will become more centralized in efforts to reduce costs.

Centralizing and partnering

He also expects growth in the company’s for-profit offerings.

Among the organizations for-profit ventures are Sparx-Management Services, Vital Dynamix, Sparx Construction & General Contracting, United Linen Service, and Calico Thyme, which provides catering.

 Although Amo said the for-profit companies employ fewer than 30 people at this time, he expects they will continue to grow and help shore up the finances so the organization can continue to provide non-profit services.

He believes that growth there can help sustain services in other areas.

Although Amo was not ready to share details, he indicated that more changes were coming both in the form of acquisitions, but also in the sale of properties that are no longer in use.

He also hopes to partner with other “like organizations” to help prop each other up.

“We’ll eventually be selling some of our other United Helpers buildings around the county as we continue to consolidate (in Ogdensburg), that’s just good responsible management trying to decrease our costs,” he said.

“We are working with a couple of different companies to partner with with different ideas that we share the same values and same goals. That potentially they could move into this building and to offer services. But we’re constantly looking at how we can United Helpers work with other organizations and provide a service for our community?”

Not going anywhere

Despite the changes coming, Amo said the company has no intentions whatsoever of getting rid of its core healthcare services. He also remained adamant that the company wouldn’t be going anywhere.

“More than anything, I want you to understand that we are a company 125-years-old. We have evolved for 125 years, and we will continue to evolve,” he said. “When we started as an orphanage, socialized care came into place, and there was no longer a need for the orphanage. So the government changed their mentality and their focus, and that is not any different than where we are today.”

Amo says adapting to those changes is what will keep the company going for the next 125 years.