Low Government Reimbursement Rates, Regulatory & Public Policy Pressures, Competition From Newer Facilities Lead To More Closings For Aging Nursing Homes, Triggering Patient Relocations; One Wisconsin Owner Estimates $53/Day In Losses For Every Resident Funded By State Medicaid
- Low government reimbursement rates, increased competition and changing patterns of where seniors elect to receive care combined to bring about the demise of Fall Creek’s only nursing home, the owner said [earlier this month].
Fall Creek Valley Care Center, , will close by mid-March, forcing its last nine residents to find alternative places to live and putting its roughly 35 employees out of work, said Jack Halbleib, administrator and owner of the facility.
The 50-bed nursing home, built in 1968 on the west end of town along the south end of the Fall Creek millpond, was operated by the village of Fall Creek until its sale in 2002 to Convenant Care, an operating company owned by Halbleib.
“It’s been kind of a landmark here in Fall Creek, and it’s sad knowing it won’t be here any longer,” said Halbleib, who called the closing an economic decision driven by chronic state underfunding.
In recent years, regulatory and public policy pressures have added unreimbursed expenses and additional data and reporting requirements that made it more difficult for nursing homes to survive, he said.
While state policies have benefited larger long-term care facilities offering assisted living, memory care, rehabilitation and other services, the changes have been “starving off” traditional community nursing homes, he said.
“The options are a good thing, but the impact on traditional nursing homes has been brutal,” Halbleib said, noting that regional nursing homes that used to maintain occupancy rates over 90 percent now typically are only 60 to 80 percent full. “There is definitely an excess of nursing home capacity in the area.”
What Halbleib called “deliberate underfunding” by the state means the average nursing home in Wisconsin loses about $53 a day for every resident whose care is funded by Medicaid, he said.
Halbleib said he previously believed the sheer number of baby boomers approaching the typical age of nursing home occupancy would ensure enough business to keep the Fall Creek facility afloat, but it now appears that far fewer people will spend any time in nursing homes.
Both Halbleib and Fall Creek village President Chester Goodman cited competition from much newer facilities in Augusta and Eau Claire — about a 10-minute drive in each direction from Fall Creek — as a factor contributing to the shutdown decision.
“It’s disappointing,” Goodman said. “But it’s a private business, and the owner of the business needs to do what’s best for him.”
A relocation plan has been filed with the state Department of Health Services, and the facility will be working with area agencies to ensure smooth and suitable placement of its nine remaining residents.
The nursing home, which reduced its licensing from 60 to 50 beds about three years ago, already has been downsizing in recent months, as it averaged just over 30 residents for much of 2016 and had about 75 employees a year ago, Halbleib said.
Despite offering a quality facility with a strong reputation, “it became clear to me that this was going to be a continuing decline,” said Halbleib, who thanked families, clergy, volunteers and schoolchildren in the community for their strong support of the facility over the years.
At this time, Halbleib said he has no alternative plans for the Fall Creek Valley Care Center building, but he plans to work with the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp. to market it.
The closing is the second announced for a longtime local care facility in recent weeks. The owners of Mt. Washington Residence said last month they intended to close the 60-bed assisted-living facility at 1930 Cleveland St. in Eau Claire as soon as the remaining 32 residents were relocated.
See also, That Empty Feeling: Local nursing homes close (Recent closings of two area nursing homes highlight a trend that could spell trouble as baby boomers age into the need for skilled long-term care centers).