Tuesday evening, the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors continued discussion of possible privatization of Pine Crest Nursing Home, accompanied by an audience of over 30 county residents. The board utilized the discussion spanning nearly 90 minutes for informational purposes. No official vote was held.
The topic of privatization was broached during last month’s county board meeting.
Following an update on the pending expansion of the facility, 20th District Supervisor Carl Vander Sanden and 16th District Supervisor Mike Loka requested county Administrative Coordinator Randy Scholz to determine what sort of, if any, private interest exists in the 178-bed, 128,000-square-foot facility.
As a result, the county’s Administrative and Legislative Committee looked into the idea of possible privatization of Pine Crest last week.
During that meeting, over 20 community members packed into the board room at the Lincoln County Service Center, witnessing two presentations from investment brokers on the concept. In the end, the committee chose to take no action.
As part of public comment on Tuesday, six audience members addressed the board in favor of keeping the facility under county ownership. Of those speaking was current Bell Tower Residence and former Good Samaritan Health Center Administrator Kris McGarigle.
“We are part of the private sector, but we are non-profit. We are a Ministry of the Holy Cross Sisters, but I wanted to speak to the same things I have heard this evening. There is no magic formula for a profitable senior care facility. We need a place for residents of Lincoln County and Merrill, to live out their years in dignity. Not all of them can afford private care in a facility. If they can’t, where do they go?
“I would just like to ask you to consider that.”
During board discussion, Vander Sanden defended his request for examining the option of privatization.
“This has never been a question of the care at Pine Crest. The issue on my mind was, back in August of 2015, 19 members of this county board agreed to spend between 6 and 6.5 million on a renovation and addition. A month ago we get hit with a bill of $9.6 million!
“They completely ignored what we asked them to do in August of ‘15. Are we to just ignore that? I don’t think so. If the pendulum swings the other way, who is going to make the payment when Medicare assistance becomes less? If that happens, it will go on the tax payers. If the tax payers of Lincoln County want to go ahead with this, fine and dandy. But I will not obligate my tax payers to it.”
2nd District Supervisor and board vice-chairman Robert Weaver countered.
“We have retired all of the debt at Pine Crest. Prior to retiring debt we were looking at $6.5 million, post-retirement of debt we are looking at $9.5 million.
“I think we have explained that numerous times,” Weaver added. “Furthermore, the medical assistance formula will provide 100% of the cost. There will be no tax levy to service this bond. We can do this renovation with zero property tax levy. We can explore this more but that is the reality.”
Other board members joined Weaver in support of maintaining county ownership.
“What we have in Pine Crest is a top notch facility,” added District 17 supervisor Kevin Koth. “This is totally wrong to consider selling this facility. My mother was happier there than the facility she was at previously. I can’t say enough about the staff we have at Pine Crest. We need to assure we have a place for our county residents, when it comes to the time they need a place like this. Any one of us in this room this evening could end up at Pine Crest at some point. We need a place to go when it’s time.”
4th District Supervisor Corey Nowak spoke in favor of maintaining county ownership, citing professional experience.
“I have been a paramedic for 12 years in this county and I have been in a lot of facilities like Pine Crest. Some are great, and some are not so great… but I won’t name where they are. That’s not important. What I will say though is we have one of the best facilities in Pine Crest that I have ever been in.”
11th District Supervisor Hans Breitenmoser cited his appreciation for the consideration of the privatization option, but seemingly sought to bring closure to the discussion.
“We have done our due diligence in considering privatization as an option,” he said. “But from the facts presented from brokers last week, I have seen nothing so far which would motivate me for selling Pine Crest. There seems to be no public support for selling and to be honest, everything I have seen encourages me to move forward with bonding.”
Following board discussion, Pine Crest administrator Lisa Gervais was joined by former administrator and current part-time accountant Tim Meehean, in rendering a presentation to board members on the $9.5 million expansion planned for Pine Crest.
As part of the presentation, Gervais outlined a three-year timeline dating back to August of 2013, when a strategic plan endeavor ultimately led to the need for an expansion.
Gervais further echoed Weaver’s sentiments in explaining the initial $6.5 million estimate versus the current $9.5 million dollar estimate.
“I get frustrated when I hear ‘they slammed us with $9.5 million’,” she stated. “I came to you and informed you costs had increased.”
Meehean further sought to add perspective to the financial aspect of the expansion.
“If you want the (Pine Crest operating cost) levy to level out and go down, we need to provide services residents want, including private rooms,” he said. “We have fixed costs and we need to keep census up to cover those fixed costs. Financially this makes sense. Due to Medicaid reimbursements, if you choose to move forward with this, in 25 years you will have an expanded facility free of cost.”
David Kimball of Eau Claire-based Architectural Design Group (ADG) was also on-hand Tuesday evening, rendering a presentation of the design for the Pine Crest Expansion.
As part of his presentation, Kimball outlined expansion goals of adding private rooms to Pine Crest as well as a 20-bed short term unit located in existing therapy space, a 20-bed special care unit and possible creation of a Community Based Residential Facility (CBRF) within existing facility space.