Committee set to ask for new county nursing home, senior housing complex
St. Croix Health Center nursing home residents and staff should know what the future holds for the facility within the next few months.
The Health and Human Services Committee voted in May to recommend to the St. Croix County Board that a new 50-bed nursing home and 48-unit assisted living complex be constructed to replace the current county-owned, 72-bed facility.
The recommendation received significant support from most of the committee members May 18. Only Linda Luckey, committee member and county supervisor from Houlton, voted against the recommendation.
The committee's recommendation will not be brought to the county board for a vote until its August meeting, providing sufficient time for the county's negotiating committee to meet with nursing home employees about possible wage and benefit concessions that will be required to make the facility more self-sufficient.
If a new 50-bed nursing home and 48-unit assisted living facility are constructed, county officials estimate that as much as $800,000 in wage and benefit concessions will be needed to take the operation off the levy. A number of county supervisors have indicated that they no longer want taxpayer money to support the nursing home, even though voters in 2008 approved a non-binding referendum indicating they approve of county funds being used to fill the facility's financial gap.
"It really bothers me that our board is not listening to our citizens," said Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Esther Wentz.
Wentz also referred to recent resolutions adopted by several municipalities that call for continued county financial support for the nursing home.
She said the county nursing home was in business for decades before for-profit facilities started popping up. She said it should be allowed to continue to provide quality care for the county's vulnerable population.
Committee member and county Supervisor Richard "Buzz" Marzolf agreed, noting that the county's official motto is "Service is our purpose."
"Yes, we have forgotten this," Wentz responded.
Committee member and supervisor Fred Horne said it was time to "push forward a plan" that a majority of the county board can support.
"They're looking to us for some direction," Horne said.
When asked what his recommendation was, Health and Human Services Depart-ment Director Fred Johnson said a smaller, 50-bed nursing home made the most financial sense because Medicaid reimbursement levels were higher for facilities that size.
There are also "enhanced opportunities" for capital reimbursement for nursing homes that are 50 beds or smaller, he added.
"I always felt the 50-bed option was a reasonable option," Johnson said.
Nursing Home Admini-strator Frank Robinson said, even with a smaller facility, he doubted that any current residents would be displaced.
Several residents that are in the nursing home now would qualify to live in the new assisted living complex attached to the new nursing home, he suggested.
Including an assisted living complex to the nursing home also makes financial sense, Robinson added, because there is significant demand for such units if they are geared toward low to middle income residents.
If a new nursing home and assisted living complex were constructed, Wentz said, it would solve another problem for the county. The Health and Human Services Depart-ment, which is in need of space, could renovate the current nursing home facility to house its programs and offices.
"That, to me, is a big selling point," Wentz said. "This would solve a lot of problems in one fell swoop."
Now that a recommendation has been approved, the ball is apparently in the negotiating committee's and nursing home employees' court.
Committee members said the hope is wage and benefit concessions can be negotiated between now and the August meeting of the county board.
Luckey said she would rather see the nursing home deal with the issue of getting the operation off the levy before any talk of a new facility occurs. She voted against forwarding the recommendation to the county board