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Nursing home celebrates inspection three-peat

They are outsiders whose time at the St. Croix Health Center's nursing home is winding down.

But interim Administrator Dennis Reiman and Director of Nursing Connie Sarauer, both employees of Pathways Health Services hired by the county to operate the nursing home the past few years, recognize a good thing when they see it.

The county-owned nursing home in New Richmond recently recorded a perfect score on its annual inspection by a state survey team.

It's nothing new for the facility. This is the third year in a row that the nursing home has been citation-free.

"This is extremely rare," Reiman said. "I've been in the nursing home business for 15 years and I've never been through a deficiency-free survey."

The inspectors did their best to uncover something that would warrant a bad mark for the facility, according to Sarauer.

When the normal inspection failed to identify a deficiency, the state team conducted an extended survey to look deeper into the daily operation of the nursing home, Sarauer said. Still nothing was found.

While three years of perfect scores is impressive, Sarauer said it could mean that federal regulators will be conducting the next survey in an effort to uncover any problems. A federal inspection becomes more likely if officials feel state inspectors are going too easy on a facility.

But there was nothing easy about the recent state survey, Sarauer said. The team looked at every aspect of nursing home care in awarding its perfect score. Medical records, dietary requirements, nursing care, recreational activities, medical treatment and more were evaluated.

In all, about 1,000 to 1,500 regulations were used to evaluate the job the New Richmond nursing home is doing.

"Nursing homes are just about the highest regulated industry in the country," Reiman said.

"Nursing homes and nuclear plants," added Cindy Prokash, activity therapy director. "Those are the most regulated."

Nursing home residents and their families were also privately interviewed by inspectors to get their feedback on how well they are treated by the nursing home staff and administration. All of the comments turned out to be positive, Sarauer said.

"The assessment was very comprehensive," she said.

"They (inspectors) were highly complimentary of our facility," Reiman said. "They actually said they enjoy coming here. It's their favorite place to come for an inspection."

Reiman said all of the positive feedback helps to build morale among employees at the nursing home.

"This validates the fact that they are doing a fantastic job," he said. "The employees here don't do this because they are so well paid. They're dedicated to the people here and to the work that they do."

Lisa Leahy, social services director, said the good report is especially gratifying because the inspection looks at every department in the nursing home. Everyone shares in the success.

"It shows a good team effort from top to bottom," she said. "They're giving it their all."

Sarauer said she's witnessed the work of the staff at the facility, and she would rate the New Richmond facility as the top nursing home she's ever worked with. She's been a consultant at about 20 nursing homes over the years.

If she had to place a loved one in a nursing home, she'd choose the St. Croix Health Center, Sarauer added.

Even as the staff enjoys the recent news, a new transition is on the horizon. The county has hired a new administrator, Frank Robinson, who will be taking over management of the operation in the coming weeks.

When that occurs, Reiman (who has been interim administrator for six months) and Sarauer (who has been director of nursing for three years) said they know they are leaving at a time when the facility is operating at peak quality.

And, Reiman said, they leave knowing that many people in the county and community support the nursing home and recognize the needed service they provide to area residents.

That's despite the fact that some in the county question the use of taxpayer money to help subsidize the facility's operations, he said.