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County solicits proposals to rent, buy nursing home

On a 27-3 vote, St. Croix County supervisors agreed Tuesday to seek proposals from businesses interested in buying, leasing or partnering to run the county-owned nursing home in New Richmond.

A subcommittee of Health and Human Services Board members, staff and consultants will draft the request for proposals. The RFP will be issued by Dec. 1, and responses are due Feb. 15.

While a new staffing plan is expected to save the county nearly $500,000 a year, the 2007 property tax levy for the nursing home is $1.24 million, and some supervisors have questioned the wisdom of continuing to use tax dollars to subsidize the facility.

In a slide presentation Tuesday, WIPFLI consultant Larry Lester went over financial data and outlined options.

Now the county receives net revenue of $157 per nursing home bed per day but expenses average $223 per bed per day.

Because the county pays its staff better and provides better benefits than private homes, it can't expect to cover costs with Medicaid reimbursements that are based on costs for all nursing homes in the state, said Lester.

He said the county could look at cutting costs by reducing wages, limiting wage increases, cutting its share of employee health premiums or discussing other concessions with the union.

"It doesn't have to be sell or lease or nothing," said Lester.

He suggested methods for determining a price for the facility and noted that the county will be responsible for some pension, unemployment and accrued time-off costs even if it finds a new operator.

Lester said leasing might be a good way to give the county time to get to know the leasing organization and to buy time until other plans can develop.

But, he said, leasing is not a good long-range strategy.

What he takes away from the presentation is that the only workable solution is to sell, said Supervisor Ron Raymond, town of Hudson.

"Sometimes you need to put people before money," responded Marie Zelinski, who has worked at the nursing home for 28 years. She said private nursing homes can make promises they can't keep just to attract residents.

"We do give quality care," said Zelinski. "Our motto has always been, 'We care for our own.'"

A new county home would attract private-pay patients who can afford higher rates, she said, adding, "Please, please check every option that you have."

"This is by far the best facility I've ever worked in," said Juliana Iburg, who has worked at the county home for four years.

"The people I take care of are the people that built this county," said Iburg. She said the good benefits keep employees happy in their jobs and nursing home residents happy in their home.