County board has reservations about St. Mark’s plans

Published 7:57 am Wednesday, September 8, 2010

St. Mark’s Lutheran Home and Apartments appears set to move ahead with a plan to reduce the number of nursing home beds at the facility to make room for more assisted living and memory care beds.

A partial county board voted 3-1 Tuesday to send a letter of understanding to the state saying the board understands the business’s need for the change, even though the board has reservations about the de-licensing of the beds.

“In the long run, this will give us more stability,” Administrator Christine Harris said.

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The project will include a substantial renovation to St. Mark’s campus. The number of nursing home beds will be reduced from 106 to 61 — 16 rehabilitation beds and 45 skilled nursing beds — to make room for 10 more assisted living apartments and 20 memory care units. The hope is that the change will help St. Mark’s continue to be a profitable business as the state is expected to offer less money to subsidize nursing home beds.

One of the board’s main concerns was the effect of de-licensing nursing home beds with the state due to the high number of senior citizens in Mower County.

Harris said the change correlates with an industry movement to have people living longer in more independent housing, like assisted living and at home.

At the same time, Commissioner Ray Tucker noted most people end up in nursing home care eventually.

With fewer nursing home beds, the county board expressed concern of an eventual shortage of skilled care in Mower County that could force families to house the elderly outside of Austin.

However, Human Resources Director Julie Stevermer noted a current shortage of memory care is causing the same problem.

Board members also expressed concern about the loss of jobs once the project is completed. After the project, St. Mark’s will require about 30 fewer employees to operate. However, Harris noted that loss could be greater should the project not move forward.

“If we don’t move forward with the project and just keep out 106 beds, we will eventually not be able to support ourselves, not be able to sustain the business and we will lose all of our jobs,” Harris said.

Harris said the project will give the business long-term employment stability. If St. Mark’s did not de-license the beds, the state would decrease funding to the facility by about $650,000.

The project is currently one month ahead of schedule, and Harris said they’ve moved about five people to clear out the first wing for construction. The plan is to have the first wing emptied by Feb. 1, which would mean moving about 20 beds. At that time, staff would have been moved into other positions. The moving of staff and beds from wing two would begin gradually after that.

The goal is to not to have to relocate any residents.

“We’re working very hard at keeping everybody there,” Harris said.

St. Mark’s is working with KKE on the project, and they will construct a new main entrance on Fourth Street Southwest to have the main entrance on a main street. The main entrance will have an overhang drive to offer more protection from the weather. A commons area will be built to house a chapel, beauty shop and a small cafe.

The transition and construction is set to take about 18 months.