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Committee forwards nursing home recommendation to St. Croix County

The St. Croix County Health and Human Services Committee is taking the lead in recommending a plan for the future of the Health Center nursing home.

Committee members had hoped that the St. Croix County Board would provide some direction at its Committee of the Whole meeting April 14.

But nursing home officials left the meeting not knowing if a majority of the county supervisors wished to remain in business or not.

"It was somewhat disappointing," admitted Esther Wentz, chairwoman of the health and human services committee.

County Board Supervisor Fred Horne, New Richmond, said it appears the county board is waiting for the committee to recommend a direction.

If the committee sits back and waits for the supervisors to act, Horne suggested, "the discussion is not going to go like we'd like it to go."

"Let's grab the bull by the horns," he said. "Let's march."

Horne suggested that the committee recommend a business plan that would operate the current 72-bed facility as is for the next few years.

To make the facility self-sustaining, Horne said the county should direct the negotiating committee to work with employees to establish wage and benefit concessions that would reduce costs in the nursing home operation. A number of county supervisors have suggested that St. Croix County get out of the nursing home business because the current facility requires some tax funding to continue operating.

During the next two years, Horne said, the county should then begin planning for and constructing a new 50-bed nursing home and 48-unit assisted living complex to replace the current facility.

An analysis completed by financial consultant LarsonAllen shows that such a downsized facility, along with wage and benefit concessions, would likely make the nursing home self sustaining.

"Then I think we do get to a business plan that is off the tax levy," Horne said. "I think we could get enough votes to move forward with that plan."

Supervisor Richard "Buzz" Marzolf, Hudson, said he didn't feel a 50-bed nursing home was adequate to take care of expected demand for beds in the future.

But, he said, the recommended new facility was the "most affordable scenario" right now. He said more beds could be added later if demand rose.

Supervisor Linda Luckey, Houlton, wondered if the committee should simply recommend continued operation of the 72-bed facility for the foreseeable future. She said a proposal to build a new facility might "scare people."

"Maybe you need to prove that you can bring the levy down before you start building something," she said.