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St. Croix County nursing home: 2nd referendum?

The St. Croix County Health Center nursing home may be in for some changes in 2012.

The county's Health and Human Services Committee met Dec. 14. A major topic revolved around the county owned facility and its financial viability.

The company the county has contracted to provide interim nursing home administrator services, Pathway Health Services, recently completed an evaluation of the current nursing home operation.

Pathways determined that the appropriate size of the New Richmond nursing home might be either 50 or 57 beds. The facility is licensed for 72 beds, but the average number of residents usually hovers around 60.

Fred Johnson, Health and Human Services director, said that if the number of licensed beds dropped to 57, all residents would have a private room.

"That's what the public is looking for ... private rooms," he said.

If the size of the nursing home was 50, the facility would be in line for higher payments from Medicare and other financial incentives would be available to them, he explained.

"What should the size of the facility be?" Johnson asked rhetorically. "We have a good facility here. We have the ability to thrive in the future."

Johnson suggested the county enlist the help of financial advisor LarsenAllen to evaluate the various options for possible downsizing.

Committee member Richard "Buzz" Marzolf, a vocal supporter of the nursing home, was uncomfortable taking the advice of a company (Pathway) that could benefit if the nursing home downsized and only needed a part-time administrator.

"It's not an objective view," he said. "I think that (having them complete an analysis) was inappropriate. It was a conflict of interest."

Committee Chairwoman Esther Wentz said Pathway has a history of completing such studies and can be trusted to give an unbiased opinion.

Johnson added that a "more detailed analysis" by LarsenAllen would give the committee a better idea of how to proceed.

As the discussion continued, Wentz said she would favor a new voter referendum in April. Even though St. Croix County voters approved a referendum in 2008 indicating that they favored supporting the nursing home operation with tax dollars, some county board members say the results of the previous vote are irrelevant.

Wentz said a new referendum would be a good idea so that their constituents' collective will can be determined.

"Let's ask the residents if they want to be in the business (of nursing homes)," Wentz said. "We have all different points of view on it. Then we can settle it once and for all."

The committee scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, Dec. 21, to consider a referendum for the spring elections.

In related committee discussion about the nursing home, the expected budget deficit at the nursing home has improved slightly over the past month.

County officials previously reported that the nursing home was facing a $195,000 to $200,000 deficit for 2011.

But, according to Johnson, staffing adjustments made recently has had a positive impact on the facility's bottom line.

A higher number of residents the past few weeks have also helped beef up the nursing home's revenues. Over the month of November, the facility's average census was 59-60 residents, which was slightly higher than the census over the past few months.

Johnson said the expected budget deficit now hovers around $150,000.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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