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Nursing home finances turning around

It was news that the St. Croix County Health and Human Services Board was unaccustomed to hearing.

During the report on the St. Croix Health Center Nursing Home operation at Monday's Health and Human Services Board meeting, Administrator Jack Williams reported that the overall financial picture was looking much better these days.

For years, the nursing home has been operating well in the red. County tax dollars have been used to keep the operation afloat during that time.

But over the past year or so, a majority of the St. Croix County Board members expressed a desire that the New Richmond-based facility no longer be a drain on tax revenues. While votes to close the nursing home failed, county administrators were directed to reduce expenses and enhance revenues to make the facility more self-sustaining.

Wage and benefit concessions by employees have helped to bring expenses more in line with revenues, Williams told the HHS Board.

"It's a much better performance than what this facility has observed for several years," he said.

The nursing home is on track to lose about $140,000 this year, Williams said, but that number is deceiving. This year, depreciation is included as an expense on the nursing home's books. If it were not for that, the financial picture would be closer to break-even.

After the meeting, HHS Board Tim Hood noted that about $333,000 in county levy dollars were budgeted this year in support of the nursing home operation. He also noted that $427,605 in inter-governmental transfer money from the state also is being used to prop up the operation.

"That means, if you add them up, the nursing home will actually be subsidized with $900,607 in taxpayer funds for the year, providing the operating losses don't increase," Hood explained.

The 50-bed nursing home is doing better because nearly all the available beds have been filled. Many of those residents have brought with them higher reimbursement payments as well, he noted.

Even with the good news, Williams said more work needs to be done to ensure the long-term survival of the county-owned facility.

"Thus far I like what I see, but we're not out of the woods yet," he said.

The county has applied for the state property-incentive program with an eye toward possibly building a new nursing home facility. Williams said St. Croix County appears to have a good chance at getting the state funds, which would help offset the cost of new construction.

But, he noted, the county will need to evaluate the changing landscape in the long-term care industry before making the leap to a new building.