By Brandi Makuski
Officials from Portage Co. hosted a standing-room-only meeting on Aug. 3 to outline options for the future of the only county-operated skilled nursing facility.
More than 60 local residents attended the meeting, which brought to light the current financial situation and potential options for the health care center, which is one of the few non-mandated services the county has maintained in the midst of dwindling budget dollars.
“The county board has been dealing with carrying the burden of a non-mandated facility for quite a few years now,” said Jerry Walters, chairman of the health care committee. “We just can’t afford to be in this business anymore. It’s taking money away from services that are mandated, that we are required by the state to provide citizens.”
County officials have been discussing how to improve conditions in the health care center, which is more than 100 years old and in need of extensive repairs.
Portage Co. Executive Patty Dreier said the county has been loosing patients to other facilities because they desire a private bedroom and private bathroom, something the county health care center isn’t equipped to provide all residents there.
Portage Co. Executive Patty Dreier has proposed a public/private semi-partnership to secure the future of the county’s 100-bed skilled nursing facility, which includes a $10 million investment — roughly half the cost of a new health care center, she said — for a new facility.
In a proposed arrangement between Portage Co. and the Sisters of St. Joseph Convent, the county would fund and construct a new health care center on a parcel of land donated by the convent on its Maria St. property — then hand the operations over to a religious nonprofit organization.
“The proposal includes taking the next step to learn more,” said Dreier, who added many specifics have not yet been finalized. “I think it’s worth at least exploring the possibility.”
Dreier said due to the timeline proposed by representatives of the convent’s nonprofit organization, the cost of the new proposed health care facility would need to be included in the 2017 budget process, and noted there’s “some urgency” for the county to give final approval to the project.
The Portage Co. Board will need to vote on the proposal in September if it’s to be included in the 2017 budget process.
Today’s Situation at PCHCC
- PCHCC is an “enterprise fund”, meaning separate accounting and financial reporting is used because a fee is charged in exchange for goods and services.
- The state does not mandate counties in Wisconsin maintain a health care center; tax levy needs to cover both mandated and non-mandated services provided by the county.
- PCHCC has aging infrastructure and lacks amenities senior living requires, such as shared rooms and bathrooms, long hallways and inefficient ‘neighborhoods’ within the building, $3 million in updates to the building’s HVAC system and insufficient lighting.
- With increases in Community Care, where seniors can receive skilled nursing care at home via the Affordable Care Act, the health care center struggles with its daily census, while expenses continue to rise.
- Benefits for county employees at PCHCC is higher than industry standard; the Portage Co. Board has, according to Walters, shown a “lack of willingness” to make operation changes to create a break-even enterprise fund.
Options Moving Forward
- Continue to operate the current center.
- Renovate the existing building.
- Sell the existing building and beds outright to another entity.
- Build a new facility.
- Invest in proposed “economic development” project on land donated by the St. Joseph Convent.