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25 workers laid off at Glens Falls Hospital

GLENS FALLS — Business decisions have led Glens Falls Hospital to lay off 25 people over the past month, a hospital spokeswoman said.

“We’ve made a number of changes over the last three months,” said spokeswoman Katelyn Cinzio, who did not offer any explanation of those changes.

However, the hospital recently closed two units: the Center for Occupational Health on Jan. 18 and the Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit on Jan. 25.

The rehab unit was described as “no longer financially viable.”

Hospital officials did not give a reason for the closure of the Center for Occupational Health, but according to the hospital’s website and its previous descriptions of the center, usage dropped precipitously over the course of two years.

In 2016, there were 2,000 companies using the center for routine drug tests and other employee matters, according to the hospital. That dropped to 900 companies in 2018, according to the hospital’s website.

Cinzio said the hospital is “constantly evaluating our staffing structure and at times that does result in position eliminations.”

Neither unit closure was announced to the public in advance, but workers told The Post-Star. Hospital officials were reluctant to discuss layoffs at all, with the hospital spokeswoman not responding to emails and phone calls for two weeks and then sending one email that did not answer the question.

Finally, after a reporter called hospital CEO Dianne Shugrue three times, the hospital spokeswoman sent out another email with the total number of layoffs. Shugrue never returned the calls.

Workers have contested the hospital’s description of 25 layoffs in total, saying that 30 people were laid off at the Center for Occupational Health and another 15 to 20 at the rehab unit.

At the Acute Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, hospital officials had said there were 15 nurses and a team of at least seven therapists. It’s not clear how many of them were laid off.

Over the last two work days, the hospital did not respond to two emails and a phone call asking for details about the 25 layoffs, such as how many people lost their jobs at the Center for Occupational Health versus the rehab unit.

Assembly, Senate approve Child Victims Act

ALBANY — After years of frustration and failed attempts, survivors of childhood sexual abuse prevailed Monday in Albany when lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to loosen one of the nation’s tightest statutes of limitations on molestation to give victims more time to seek criminal charges or file lawsuits.

The measure, known as the Child Victims Act, would also create a one-year litigation window for victims to file lawsuits now barred by the statute of limitations. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has said he will sign the measure into law.

Long a priority for abuse victims and their advocates, the bill was blocked for years by Republicans in the state Senate. That changed last fall when Democrats won a Senate majority and the chamber’s new leader made good on her promise to put the bill to a vote. When the roll was called, the vote in the Senate was unanimous, with every Republican senator voting yes.

“We apologize for not hearing you soon enough,” Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said on the floor, in what she said was a message to survivors. “We apologize for making you wait so long ... The wait is over.”

New York state currently has one of the nation’s most restrictive statutes of limitations when it comes to molestation, giving victims until they’re 23 to file lawsuits or seek criminal charges against their abusers. Victims and their advocates say it often takes years or decades to speak out about abuse after it occurred.

Under the act, victims could file civil suits until age 55 and seek criminal charges until age 28. Massachusetts, another heavily Catholic state, already gives victims up to 35 years to sue. Ohio and Pennsylvania both give victims until age 30.

The one-year litigation window for past claims now barred by the statute of limitations has been the sticking point, with large private institutions such as the Catholic Church warning that it could cause catastrophic financial harm to any organization that cares for children. A similar law in California, passed in 2002, resulted in Catholic dioceses there paying $1.2 billion in settlements.

The church dropped its opposition to the act last week, however, when the act was revised to treat public and private schools and entities the same. In a joint statement on the bill’s passage, the state’s Catholic bishops said they “pray that the passage of the Child Victims Act brings some measure of healing to all survivors.”

To those victims who had pushed for passage of the act for more than a decade, Monday was cause for celebration. At a rally in the Capitol, one survivor held a sign that read “16 Yrs. But we did it.”

“We faced evil forces. We faced special interests. We defeated them,” said Gary Greenberg, an abuse victim and a leading supporter of the act who created a political action committee to support candidates who backed the bill.

At least four lawmakers brought up stories of their own past abuse during legislative floor debate on the bill. Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, D-Manhattan, tearfully recounted abuse she suffered at the hands of a teacher at age 13. She said the pain can be too much for any child — or adult — to bear, let alone openly discuss.

“I can still smell what it smelled like,” she said, recalling details from her abuse. Niou’s colleagues in the Assembly gave her a standing ovation before the Assembly passed the act 130-3. The Senate passed it earlier in the day 63-0.

While only three lawmakers voted against the measure, several Republicans voiced concerns that the bill could bankrupt organizations over decades-old claims that would be difficult to refute.

“For a year, you can bring a civil lawsuit against anybody with no restrictions whatsoever as to the timing,” said Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua. “Your claim could be 50, 60, 70 years old. Long past the time that any individual employer would have any records to defend themselves.”

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, both Manhattan Democrats.

US envoy: 'Agreement in principle' on peace talks

KABUL, Afghanistan — Negotiators for the U.S. and the Taliban insurgents have reached “agreements in principle” on key issues for a peace deal that would end 17 years of war in Afghanistan, the top U.S. envoy said Monday.

The statement by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad followed six days of talks last week with the Taliban in Qatar, where he urged the Islamic insurgent group to enter into direct negotiations with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

Ghani on Monday assured Afghans that their rights will not be compromised in the name of peace with the Taliban, who have been staging near-daily attacks against Afghan forces, causing scores of casualties every week. Their offensive has not let up despite the severe Afghan winter and the insurgents now hold sway over almost half of the country.

Khalilzad said in an interview with The New York Times that an agreement in principle was reached with the Taliban on the framework of a peace deal “which still has to be fleshed out” that will see the insurgents commit to guaranteeing that Afghan territory is not used as a “platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.”

He said the deal could lead to a full pullout of U.S. troops in return for a cease-fire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government.

In his statement released by the U.S. Embassy, Khalilzad said, “We made progress on vital issues in our discussions and agreed to agreements in principle on a couple of very important issues.

“There is a lot more work to be done before we can say we have succeeded in our efforts but I believe for the first time I can say that we have made significant progress,” he said.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he was briefed on the talks and described them as encouraging, but he also said the department has not been directed to prepare for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Speaking before a meeting at the Pentagon with Shanahan, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said any discussion about the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan would be premature. He said Khalilzad briefed NATO allies on the talks weeks ago.

“We are in Afghanistan to create the conditions for a peaceful negotiated solution,” Stoltenberg said. “We will not stay longer than necessary, but we will not leave before we have a situation that enables us to leave or reduce the number of troops without jeopardizing the main goal of our presence and that is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists once again.”

He said he believes it’s too soon to speculate on withdrawal because “what we have to do now is to support the efforts to try to find a peaceful solution. We strongly support those efforts.”

Ghani sought to assure Afghans that no deals would be made without Kabul’s awareness and full participation.

“Our commitment is to provide peace and to prevent any possible disaster,” Ghani said in an address to the nation. “There are values that are not disputable, such as national unity, national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Ghani’s office said he and Khalilzad met late Sunday in Kabul to discuss details from the talks.

Khalilzad has met with the Taliban on a number of occasions in recent months in the latest bid to end America’s longest war. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to topple the Taliban, who were harboring Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

The statement from Ghani’s office also claimed that the Taliban demanded from Khalilzad the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan, but that there was also no agreement on that issue.

The statement added that Khalilzad has no authority to discuss issues such as a future Afghan administration but that his goal is to facilitate an intra-Afghan dialogue, meaning direct talks between the Taliban and Kabul.

Khalilzad tweeted Saturday about progress in the talks in Qatar, where the insurgents have a political office, saying: “Meetings here were more productive than they have been in the past.”

“We made significant progress on vital issues,” he tweeted, without offering details.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid, a former Taliban official and currently a member of the High Peace Council, an independent body of clerics and respected Afghan figures, said he believes the Qatar talks resulted in a “good understanding between both sides” but that more discussions are needed in the coming weeks or months.

“Afghanistan’s problem is not so simple that it can be solved in a day, week or month, it needs more time and more discussions,” Mujahid said.

The Taliban in the past refused to negotiate directly with Kabul — a standing that does not appear to have changed. They maintained that they are prepared to talk with U.S. officials only and only about the pullout of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

Report shows nearly 4 percent increase in Warren County hotel stays in 2018

A company that tracks hotel stays reported that Warren County’s hotels had 3.9 percent more visitors in 2018.

It was the first year since 2008 that the Smith Trend Report logged over 1 million guests in participating Warren County hotels, motels and lodges, county Tourism Director Joanne Conley said Friday.

Smith Trend Report compiles room rental data for municipalities and private organizations, for which subscribers pay a fee.

Only a small percentage of hotel owners in the county take part in the report, but it is viewed as a fairly accurate snapshot of the hotel industry in general.

Conley said the company’s 2018 data for Warren County showed room rentals were up 3.9 percent, which amounted to an additional 38,185 rooms rented compared to 2017,and pushed the total over 1 million.

“I would say, all in all, 2018 was a good year,” she said.

One local hotelier whose company operates a number of hotels in the Lake George area told county supervisors Friday that the picture is not as rosy as the numbers make it seem.

Frank Dittrich, whose family’s properties include the new Courtyard Marriott in the village of Lake George, said the opening of new hotels has pushed the numbers higher, while many have difficulties.

“Properties that aren’t on the lake (Lake George) are struggling. Properties that are near new development are down,” he said.

With a county law coming online that will require those who own homes that are rented through short-term rental companies such as Airbnb, supervisors have opted to hire a company called AlltheRooms Inc. to compile a list of homes for rent in the county.

The contract is for $5,960 the first year, with annual updates likely, and Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson said he hoped the county would share the information with towns that are trying to determine what homes are for rent.

County Treasurer Michael Swan said occupancy tax revenue rose to a record $4,414,619 last year, a 4.17 percent increase. He said 2018 collections are still ongoing, and the figure will likely rise.