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Preston citizens troubled over Nursing Home closure

Fri, Jan 25th, 2008
Posted in Government

Preston City Council chambers were full to capacity at the January 22 meeting. Citizens came to air their grievances after Good Samaritan announced their intention to close the Preston Good Samaritan Society nursing home by early March 2008. City Administrator Joe Hoffman said that he had had several meetings since the announcement with Mayor Kurt Reicks, who was absent this evening, and Chris Gastner to discuss any options for keeping the nursing home open.

Hoffman emphasized that he was told bluntly that the beds were not to be transferred or sold but were to be turned back to the state. The state has been trying to reduce the number of nursing home beds in the state.

City councilman Robert Sauer added that the bed use across the state has not dropped below 93% occupancy. Good Samaritan has no interest in continuing to operate the nursing home. Their interest is to sell the property or to find another use for it. Sauer explained that the facility needs a great deal of maintenance and repair to be brought up to code.

Sauer insisted that the facility has been a victim of lack of funding. He accused the political faction that wants to limit or reduce taxes of "starving the beast" by denying adequate funding. Good Samaritan officials have claimed financial losses of $1.1 million over a two to three year period. The lack of funding also makes it difficult to attract adequate professional staff. Father Frances Galles served on the Good Samaritan board and suggested that it has operated in the red for a long time. He was thankful that the nursing home was there for his recuperation after surgery. He felt that he should have come to the council to discuss how the home could have been helped during those years it operated in the red. Galles suggested that the council and others see if the building can at least be converted to a needed community center.

Inez Stahl expressed her concern that the loss of the nursing home will have a "trickle down" effect and hurt other businesses in town like the pharmacy and grocery store. Andy Bunge insisted that the success or failure of small towns like Preston is determined by the loyalty of its residents to support and shop at the local businesses.

Ken Stager, whose mother is a resident at the nursing home, has been in contact with Tom Syverson, Good Samaritan regional director and the individual tasked with the closing of the Preston facility. Stager repeated that he was told that the Preston facility could not be sold as a nursing home. He listed three factors that contributed to the loss of the nursing home including a shortage of funds, strict regulations, and mismanagement from the top. Six nursing homes are still in operation in Fillmore County including Harmony, Ostrander, Mabel, Rushford, Spring Valley, and Chatfield. One or more of these or other small town homes could be in danger of being shut down.

Hoffman and Robert Sauer will attend the EDA meeting on the 28th at 5:00 p.m. where options concerning the nursing home will be discussed. Sauer insisted that most citizens are not over taxed in Minnesota or in the country. The lack of funding is having a negative effect on nursing homes, roads, and more. He suggested that in recent years Minnesota has let rural medical facilities "wither on the vine," unlike our southern neighbors. Andy Bunge questioned the quality of life that all of us as tax payers are willing to support. He asked, "What quality of life do you want in your community and what are you willing to pay for it?" He remarked that sometimes you don't know how special something was until you lose it.

Sanitation Contract

Tony Severson, S & S Sanitation, asked the council to renew his contract for another five year term. He noted the contract includes a 10% raise as of January 1, 2008. He explained that he has absorbed a 100% increase in fuel costs. In each of the four remaining years there will be a total of a 3.5% increase, 1.5% for Severson and 2% for the county tipping fee. The fifty cent senior citizen discount will be increased to seventy-five cents.

The council approved the rate changes and the senior citizen discount change and the contract will be brought back next meeting for final approval.

Other Business

• Richard Petsch, Preston Historical Society, asked the council to accept the donation of a boxcar and to have it moved to the "demolition land fill area" on East Fillmore Street for a period of up to 24 months during restoration. The boxcar is being offered by the IC & E railroad company and is now located in Calmar, Iowa. The Preston Historical Society will need to weld, sandblast and paint the boxcar. Mayor pro-tem Heath Mensink asked that some kind of fence be put around the boxcar during restoration.

Hoffman said that once the city accepts the donation the city will be assuming liability. The council voted to accept the donation once it was delivered to East Fillmore Street with the stipulation that there is an agreement in place with the historical society stating the city's requirements while the boxcar is located at East Fillmore Street.

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