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Nursing home alternatives explored; no decisions yet

Though no action was taken, alternatives for the St. Croix County nursing home offered at last week's County Board meeting ranged from trying to resurrect a private company's plan for taking over the home to suggesting that the county build a new facility on its own.

No one directly proposed closing the nursing home, but suggestions were made that its property-tax subsidy -- which a consultant said will total about $8.4 million over the next five years -- could be used to provide other services.

Perhaps coincidently, at the onset of the meeting the coordinator of long term support reported that 150 adults and 131 children are on county waiting lists to receive in-home services needed due to chronic disabilities.

"The bottom line is most of our (nursing home) expenses are going up faster than our revenue is," said Larry Lester of Wipfli Consultants. He said two percent increases in Medicaid funding don't cover three percent salary increases or 10 percent increases in employee health insurance costs.

As the meeting began, more than 70 visitors crowded the room, but by the time public comments were taken, the number had dwindled. Only seven audience members made statements.

"The County is not a revenue-producing industry. Its function is to provide services," said Gene Shefland during public comments. He said schools take 53 percent of the property tax levy and the county takes 22 percent, with only 1.6 percent of that going to the nursing home.

Taking the nursing home from people who've lived their lives in the County "doesn't sit well and it shouldn't sit well," said Shefland.

As for implications that County nursing home employees are overpaid, said Shefland, "They do not get paid enough. They could not get paid enough."

"A building can be as new as technology can make it, but it's still a building," said Loyla Waskul, Somerset. She said the County home isn't new, but it's "state of the art" due to the quality of its staff.

"Tonight we've heard all about numbers and the numbers are important, but our priority should be people," said Diane Bulman, New Richmond, who has a family member in the home. She said it is a caring, safe and clean facility and the workers are dependable.

"Taxpayers' money goes for lots of foolishness, but this is not one of them," commented nursing home resident Victor Olson in a letter read by Supervisor John Mortensen, New Richmond.

"We have a County that takes care of our elderly," said Mary Squyer, the County's supervisor for economic support.

"We have nine nursing homes. I've been in every one of them. I've had lunch with the residents," said Squyer. She said she has never seen anything out of line during any of her visits.

"Dignity and value of human life and not profit and loss" should be the most important concerns, said Supervisor Buzz Marzolf, town of Troy. He figured the 2007 County tax subsidy for the nursing home amounts to $23.64 per year -- or .0647 cents per day -- for each tax parcel in the County.

No one who testified and no one on the County Board believes the care provided by the County nursing home is anything but excellent, responded Supervisor Chuck Struemke, River Falls area.

"The real issue is that there is no need for the County nursing home," said Struemke. The residents could be moved to other homes in the County, and the tax money could be used to provide other needed services, he said.

CCH's position

Even though Christian Community Home's proposal to take over the County home was withdrawn days earlier, Executive Director Dan Goodier addressed the Board, summarizing CCH's motivations and goals.

For the complete story, see the July 26, 2007, print edition of the New Richmond News.