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Is new St. Croix Health Center leader 'Hatchet man' or savior?

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health River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

New St. Croix Health Center nursing home administrator Jack Williams wanted to make one thing perfectly clear when meeting with the county's Health and Human Services Board Monday.

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His primary job is to keep the long-time facility operating, not close it.

He told the board that the rumor spreading throughout the county is that he was hired as a "hatchet man."

"Nothing could be further from the truth," he said.

With his experience in banking and the health care industry, Williams said he has the tools to evaluate the current nursing home operation and determine if the facility has a chance to be financially viable.

"What I want to do is see if this nursing home can survive," he said.

Williams said the county-owned facility has had a tough time making ends meet over the past few years. The tough times may not be over even after the nursing home dropped to 50 licensed beds in 2012 in an effort to cut costs and maximize revenues, Williams said.

With the federal sequestration that went into effect Monday, Williams said the nursing home stands to lose at least $1,000 a month in revenue.

In his initial review of current operations, Williams said there are some difficult financial realities that make it tough to bring the facility closer to the break-even point. One example, he noted, is that the nursing home spends about $97,000 a month to feed its 48 to 50 residents. But the dietary department also spends about $82,000 a month for retirement and benefits for employees.

In order to make the nursing home cash flow, Williams told the board, those types of fixed costs need to be addressed long term.

Once the budget comes into better focus, Williams said discussions about constructing a new nursing home or remodeling the existing facility can occur.

HHA Board member Fred Yoerg said he appreciated the new administrator's candor related to the nursing home's present financial challenges. He reiterated that some HHS board and county board members have been criticized for being against the nursing home and are trying to close it.

"We are against it losing tremendous amounts of money," he said. "We have to try and fix it. You can't bleed $1.5 million a year."

In a related report, Finance Director Tabatha Hansen said the nursing home operation is expected to suffer a $100,000 loss in 2013, if current financial trends continue.

She said that number is "nowhere near the loss we incurred in 2012."

County officials have worked with nursing home employees over the past few months to trim pay and benefit packages to bring them in line with industry standards. The resulting savings has helped to lessen the red ink experienced at the facility.

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