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Non-profit abandons nursing home proposal

In less than two days last week, St. Croix County's attempts to transfer its nursing home to a private owner and a plan to build a new 95-bed facility in New Richmond fell apart.

County negotiators have been working with Christian Community Home of Hudson since March to come up with a plan to transfer ownership of the 72-bed county-owned home to the private non-profit.

That proposal, made public shortly after noon July 11, called for the county to help with transition costs by paying a $2.75 million subsidy over five years -- far less than the $5.7 million tax subsidy the county has paid to the nursing home in the last five years. The plan also said CCH would build a larger Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing home in New Richmond.

The following day, the CCH board of directors voted to withdraw from negotiations.

Citing a New Richmond City Council resolution opposing privatization of the nursing home, CCH Executive Director Dan Goodier said it seemed apparent there wasn't the public support necessary for the plan to succeed.

"(CCH) entered this discussion because we believed our company could extend its mission to serve the residents and families of New Richmond," wrote Goodier in a letter to County Board Chairman Buck Malick. "To do that, we intended to build a new, state-of-the-art nursing home."

Acknowledging there have been other "vocal advocates against privatization," Goodier continued, "Without broad public support, including the support of the citizens of New Richmond, the unique plan CCH proposed likely would not succeed."

"I understand their reasons," said Malick Monday morning. He said non-profits have to rely on grants and donations for part of their finances.

"(Goodier) has implied that that basic support will not be there," said Malick.

It takes time to build community support, but the confidential nature of the negotiations with the County prevented CCH from beginning to lay that foundation until the proposal was made public, said Malick.

"Now without City Council support, it suggests that efforts to do that would have failed," he said.

Malick said he would have expected that the CCH proposal would have been well accepted in New Richmond.

Although all the details of the proposed agreement with the County hadn't been worked out, the proposal called for CCH to rent 18.6 acres on the "county farm," north of County Road K and south and east of Highway 64. The lease term would have been 99 years with annual payments of $1.

Under the agreement, which hadn't yet been brought to the County Board for a vote, the County would also have provided some assistance in obtaining financing to build the new nursing home.

Offering that help and paying a subsidy during the transition period was the only way the County could have convinced a private entity to take over the home, said County Negotiator Brian Purtell, an attorney who specializes in health care law.

He said the nursing home building is "an antiquated medical-model facility."

"If you were going to put it on the block -- here it is, it's for sale -- you're not going to get any buyers," said Purtell. He said other counties who have gotten out of the nursing home business have paid a subsidy too.

The proposal was a winner for the County and the community, said Purtell.

The temporary subsidy was less than the County has been spending on the home, said Purtell, and when the transaction was completed, the community would have had a "brand new state-of-the-art" facility.

A County Board meeting to discuss the nursing home's future was set for Tuesday evening. Malick said public input would be taken during that meeting.

"I guess Board members have fewer choices. We don't have the option of proceeding with CCH," said Malick of decisions now facing the County Board.

The July 17 agenda lists those options as "continue, close, downsize, sell, build or other."