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EDITORIAL: County makes tough, but correct, choice

After discussing the possible closure of the St. Croix County Health Center nursing home for years, the county board finally weighed in on the matter Tuesday through a systematic vote.

After a 12-7 vote to reject calls for the facility's closing, the board focused on the future path for the nursing home. There was plenty of debate over what direction to head. In the end, the decision to build a new facility won the day.

The hope now is that the previous recommendation to construct a nursing home along with an assisted living wing catering to low- and middle-income clients will prevail.

If it does, the county will be in position to ensure that its residents (no matter their ability to pay) will receive the care they need when they are elderly or frail.

There will always be a demand for private facilities that offer similar services. The new facilities at The Deerfield and at Christian Community Homes in Osceola are impressive and meet the needs of many residents in the region.

But the new county nursing home will be poised to deal with the aging Baby Boomer population that will hit their 80s over the next couple decades. Nursing home experts are fretting about what will happen down the road, and county officials have taken some of the guess work out of that foggy future.

Now that a new facility is in the works, however, it doesn't mean officials should stop looking for ways to save taxpayer money. More should be done to make the current nursing home's operation more efficient.

Numerous studies and financial reviews have identified that salaries and benefits at the county-owned facility are a bit out of whack when compared to similar operations in the region. Nursing home employees and managers should continue to negotiate ways to bring the facility in line with the industry norms.

A new facility, coupled with these appropriate management adjustments, will go a long way toward using taxpayer funds wisely while also preparing for a future of expected high nursing home and assisted living facility demand.