Saturday, October 24, 2020

Tomah site for county nursing home off the table

Development revealed at Tomah, Sparta info sessions where county officials urge support for referendum

The county nursing home site in Tomah is no longer on the table.

That's according to Phil Stuart, CEO of Tomah Memorial Hospital which had a 10-acre parcel neighboring its new health complex earmarked for the county facility.

Stuart made the revelation at Monday's informational session on the nursing home referendum at Tomah High School (see related story).

It came as a surprise to many of the nearly 70 people who attended the Sparta session Wednesday night at Meadowview School. County Administrator Jim Bialecki told the Sparta audience that the hospital was no longer going to wait for the county to resolve the nursing home matter and would move on with its original plans.

That appeared to be good news for most audience members, who had come to hear Bialecki and other county officials speak on the upcoming credendum asking voters, "Should Monroe County build a new senior care facility at an estimated construction cost of $20 million with an estimated bond repayment schedule of $1.5 million over a 20 year period?"

The whole process has been embroiled in controversy after 10 supervisors voted to move the facility's site from Sparta to Tomah in January 2018. That action resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the supervisors, accusing them of violating open meetings law.

It also caused delays in the project, adding $4 million to the overall price of construction originally projected to be $16 million. Still, the message from county officials at the information session was a county run nursing home is well worth the cost.

According to Monroe County Finance Director Tina Osterberg, that cost will have a $12.31 annual impact on property taxes for the owner of a $100,000 house for the next 20 years.

Rolling Hills Nursing Home Director Linda Smith pointed out that Monroe County presently has three nursing homes, including Rolling Hills and two private facilities, Morrow Home in Sparta and the Tomah Nursing and Rehab Center. But without Rolling Hills on the landscape she painted a potentially bleak future for the county's quickly expanding senior population.

Statistics from the Mississippi Regional Planning Commission show the number of county residents over the age of 75 is expected to rise from 2,912 in 2010 to 7,350 in 2040. The 85-and-older population is expected to swell from 6,223 to 12,840 in the same time period.

"So we know we're going to have a demand for services and it's time we get things in place and get ready to make sure we're able to serve the types of residents we need to serve," said Smith.

One audience member, alluding to the justice center fiasco and its numerous cost overruns, was concerned the price of the new nursing home would in all likelihood exceed the projected $20 million.

Smith assured the audience that those involved in planning the new care facility learned from the mistakes of the  justice center project, whose out-of-state architect had never built a jail before.

She said for the senior care facility the county hired a Wisconsin-based architect with a proven track record to design the project and performed a feasibility study to ensure it was offering the right services to meet the county's demands.

They also updated projected construction costs to include inflation for the next two years before the 2020 building start date. Smith was confident the project would remain under $20 million.

To replace the present aging nursing home, which is in need of a $22 million renovation to address its numerous deficiencies, the plan is to build a facility with a 50-bed skilled nursing home, a 24-bed assisted living and memory care unit, and a 24 bed independent and assisted living facility.

That mix of services, according to Smith, allows the nursing home to bring its operating costs on the tax levy to under $20,000. That figure was $1.26 million in 2017.

Smith also pointed out that Rolling Hills nursing home has a substantial economic impact on the area, employing over 130 people from around the county in good jobs and purchasing supplies and services from local businesses, including medication from Phillips Pharmacies and linen services from Band Box Cleaners.

The officials also addressed the notion that the private sector could run the nursing home better. Bialecki said that's not necessarily true and that a lot of privately run facilities are struggling in the face of Wisconsin's Medicaid reimbursement system, which is the worst in the nation.

He said there are county's running successful nursing homes, including Dodge and Richland counties, while Calumet County sold its nursing homes to the private sector and those two facilities are now in receivership.

Smith said the purpose of Rolling Hills Nursing Home is to serve Monroe County residents. She added that unlike the private sector, as long as the facility can meet their needs it won't turn away residents even after their resources dry up.

She also warned that if the nursing home were to be sold, there's nothing preventing the buyer from moving those beds out of town, and likely forcing many residents to find care facilities miles away.

She encouraged the crowd to support the referendum despite the current controversy over the site.

"The concern I have is if you're supportive of a project then please vote yes for the referendum because we can't do any project if we don't have approval to get the money," she said. "We've had some comments that if we have this place or that place 'then I don't want to vote for it', but that really puts us at risk. We really need the money to move forward and hopefully we'll get things ironed out."

The referendum will appear on the April 2 ballot.


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Sparta, WI 54656-0252

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