STEVENS POINT — Portage County voters will, once again, decide whether they will pay to keep his retirement home open.
Portage County Council voted unanimously to send a referendum to voters on April 5 that would allow it to exceed property tax levy limits by $4.5 million for 20 years, in part so that the county could replace the Whiting Avenue facility built in 1931 with a more compact and energy-efficient building.
Voters in 2018 authorized the county to raise taxes by up to $1.4 million a year for four years to give county leaders time to plan a future for the facility, which was bleeding mostly cash due to low Medicaid reimbursement rates in Wisconsin.
A portion of the $4.5 million each year would be used to continue paying the operating deficit, and it would also be used to build a new 57,000 square foot facility to help make the center more financially viable.
As with the 2018 referendum, the county cannot levy the full amount approved by voters. The amount of county levies will depend on state Medicaid reimbursement rates, the number of private insurance patients the facility attracts, and the amount of government grants the center receives.
If the referendum fails, it will be up to the next county council elected in April to decide whether to try again for a November referendum or begin the process of closing the facility. The retirement home has enough money to operate until the summer of 2023, Portage County Executive Chris Holman said.
The county’s current overrun of the drawdown limit is approximately $21 per $100,000 of equalized land value. The new referendum before the voters would bring this amount to approximately $67 per $100,000 of equalized property value.
Building a new facility would take about two years as the county slowly tears down the old facility wing by wing and replaces it with a new modular facility that would allow for expansions down the road, said board member Meleesa Johnson. county administration and president of health care. central committee.
Phasing out the old nursing home allows the county to keep current and future patients in the area without sending them to Wausau or further afield while a new facility is built. Johnson said the county could save more money in the long run by constructing a modern building, since many of the underlying infrastructure elements of the current retirement home are well past their useful life.
A new facility would also allow patients to have rooms to themselves without having to share bathrooms and have better air circulation to prevent the spread of disease. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the facility to stop doubling the number of patients in rooms.
Johnson said a new facility with more amenities will help attract more private insurance patients, which will be key to the center’s financial viability. Private insurance pays facilities more, and Wisconsin is one of the worst states for reimbursing facilities caring for Medicaid patients, according to a 2017 national study by the American Health Care Association. Moving to attract more paying patients means the county can operate a facility that serves the most vulnerable, she said.
“It sounds cold, but that’s kind of the way this world is,” she said.
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The health care center currently consists of approximately 66% Medicaid patients and 23% private patients.
Johnson said the plan for the new facility also includes diversifying the center’s offerings. The center will provide assisted living services to help retain qualified nurses in Portage County. The new business model also involves building on the centre’s existing memory care and rehabilitation services.
Contact reporter Alan Hovorka at 715-345-2252 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ajhovorka.