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It’s not too late to save SV Health and Rehab Center

The Spring Valley Health and Rehab Center has seen financial challenges escalate over the last six months. Administrator Kevin Larson said it was important for the nursing home to open up lines of dialogue with the community to keep the facility operating. Matthew Lambert / RiverTown Multimedia

The Spring Valley Health and Rehab Center has been struggling, along with most other Wisconsin long-term care centers.

In February, the Lutheran Home in River Falls closed. Later that month, the Fall Creek Valley Care Center announced it would close its doors later in the spring.

In April, the Crandon Nursing Home closed.

Statewide alarm bells have been rung by the Wisconsin Health Care Association. Most administrators are too late to save their respective facilities, but SVHRC administrator Kevin Larson and the Health Care Services Board are alerting the community that right now the facility is in dangerous territory financially.

READ MORE: A never ending death spiral: SV Health & Rehab faces closure

In a news release dated July 31, Larson et. al stated that the nursing home "has been experiencing financial challenges for over a year; this has become more serious in the last six months."

Higher costs

The group cited "higher than expected health insurance costs," which is a result of compliance with the Affordable Care Act, low occupancy, and recurring low Medicaid reimbursement rates from the state government.

Julie Ducklow has been a board member for two and a half years and she says the struggle isn't new, but it is an increasingly worrisome situation.

"As I look back now, it's always been a struggle, but we've always been able to pay our bills and keep everything," Ducklow said. "It was always worrying about how do we get things better and attract more people and to make sure, the biggest piece, is meeting all of the regulatory requirements."

Larson said things have begun to escalate and the facility has made tough decisions lately that have had direct impacts on the Spring Valley community and the SVHRC community as a whole.

Budget cuts

The facility used to include an area for child daycare, but as the budget has continued to tighten up, that was an expense that was cut from the budget.

Larson said front-desk staff have seen hours cut significantly as well moving some employees to part time.

When difficult decisions were made, and the child daycare was cut, community members spoke out saying that they wished they would have known the facility was struggling as much as it was. Larson said people claimed they would have been willing to help the facility to keep it from closing the child daycare.

"This isn't a fun time. These decisions affect people's lives," Larson said. "When you're doing things like this, people in the community begin to talk."

Which is what led the administration to publish the news release.

"We wanted to get out ahead of this situation. We wanted to make sure people knew what was going on. We didn't want there to be rumors going around," Larson said. "We also know this is something where we're all in this together, so if anyone has any ideas, that's why we are trying to open this line of dialogue.

'Creative options'

"We're looking at creative options, so there aren't any bad ideas."

One place the facility is looking for solutions is by hiring Pathway Health as a consultant to audit financial records to see where they can save money and improve qualifications to qualify for more federal Medicaid funds.

According to Ducklow, the consultant was paid in full by money raised from community business owners.

During the consultant's first day going through the different processes at the facility, Larson said the consultant told him that the early indication would be "nickle and diming them" to find any way to save money.

The letter serves as an indication that the same circumstances that closed the Lutheran Home in River Falls before it closed in February are creeping in on the facility in Spring Valley and other rural facilities around the state too.

"This is getting to a point where we might be month to month. We aren't there yet, but any drastic changes could move us in that direction," Larson said. "We hope we're not next, but it could happen to anyone; I've been saying all along, it could happen anywhere to anyone."