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County nursing home alternatives explored; no decisions yet

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Though no action was taken, alternatives for the St. Croix County nursing home offered Tuesday night ranged from trying to resurrect a private company's plan for taking over the home to suggesting that the county build a new facility on its own.

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No one directly proposed closing the nursing home, but suggestions were made that its property-tax subsidy - which a consultant said will total about $8.4 million over the next five years - could be used to provide other services.

Perhaps coincidently, at the onset of the meeting the coordinator of long term support reported that 150 adults and 131 children are on county waiting lists to receive in-home services needed due to chronic disabilities.

As the meeting began, over 70 visitors crowded the room, but by the time public comments were taken, the number had dwindled. Only seven audience members made statements.

"The county is not a revenue-producing industry. Its function is to provide services," said Gene Shefland during public comments. He said schools take 53 percent of the property tax levy and the county takes 22%, with only 1.6 percent of that going to the nursing home.

Taking the nursing home from people who've lived their lives in the county "doesn't sit well and it shouldn't sit well," said Shefland.

As for implications that county nursing home employees are overpaid, said Shefland, "They do not get paid enough. They could not get paid enough."

"Taxpayers' money goes for lots of foolishness, but this is not one of them," commented nursing home resident Victor Olson in a letter read by Supervisor John Mortensen, New Richmond.

Even though Christian Community Home's proposal to take over the county home was withdrawn last week, Executive Director Dan Goodier addressed the board, summarizing CCH's motivations and goals.

When the county reduced senior meal services in Hudson, CCH representatives saw that as "a red flag" that the combination of tax levy limits and nursing home costs would force the county to cut other services, said Goodier.

"We did feel called by our mission to step forward out of a sense of duty," he said.

The CCH plan was to build a new $12.5 million 95-bed nursing home on the county site in New Richmond. Goodier said CCH planned to include services that it is offering in Hudson, including a quality dining program and health club-type wellness center.

But when the New Richmond City Council voted to oppose privatization of the county home, "We felt that that was perhaps the deal breaker," said Goodier.

"I think a funny thing happened on the way to the debate tonight," said Supervisor Don Jordan, town of Hudson. He said it was unfortunate that the City Council took a stand against the proposal before details were released.

"We have abandoned the one opportunity we had to have a better alternative," said Jordan.

"I think we missed a real opportunity to help the citizens of the community get good care," agreed Supervisor Ron Raymond, town of Hudson.

Supervisor Bill Cranmer, town of Hudson, made a motion to have County Board representatives meet with the New Richmond City Council to discuss the nursing home issue and ask council members to reverse their vote.

Other County Board members objected to interfering with another governmental body's actions and one doubted that CCH would want to continue anyway. Supervisors voted to postpone a vote on Cranmer's motion.

Discussion on the issue will continue at the next County Board meeting, now set for 9 a.m. Aug. 21.

Judy Wiff is the Regional Editor for the RiverTown Newspaper Group and is based in River Falls. She can be contacted at regional@rivertowns.net or 715.426.1049.

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