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Country View care center in Waterloo.

WATERLOO — Mounting losses at the Country View nursing home are taking a toll on Black Hawk County’s elected officials.

Members of the county Board of Supervisors vented their frustration during an hour-long work session Tuesday to discuss finances at the county-run facility now on pace to lose more than $2.2 million this fiscal year.

“This is painful,” said Supervisor Linda Laylin. “It’s not something I want to do every year.”

Board members are struggling to balance the moral issue of maintaining a home for nearly 140 frail elderly and intellectually disabled residents against the property tax dollars being spent to subsidize a service the county is not legally obligated to provide.

“We certainly have a responsibility to the residents and the employees, but we also have to keep in mind our responsibility to the taxpayers,” Laylin said. “Had we been a private business, we’d be out of business.

“We’ve just been very fortunate to have taxpayer dollars; that’s why we’ve been able to sustain as long as we have,” she added. “I’m not comfortable with the argument that we just tax for it. We have to be very aggressive in how we reduce those losses.”

Supervisor Craig White bristled at the idea any Country View residents would be displaced and sent to other facilities where he believes they would struggle.

“I think we have a responsibility as human beings to try to take care of these people,” White said. “We spend millions and millions of dollars at our (jail) across the street, and I don’t hear taxpayers yelling holy hell about what we spend over at the jail.”

Country View staff say the facility’s financial woes are largely due to having residents with higher rates of psychiatric issues than other nursing homes, staffing issues and having nearly all of the residents covered under the federal Medicaid program.

Medicaid reimburses Country View for about 80 percent of its actual costs. Meanwhile, there’s been a push at the federal and state level to reduce Medicaid costs even further.

“Is it the obligation of Black Hawk County taxpayers to pick up those costs?” asked board chairman Frank Magsamen, who said the supervisors have been getting very little public input on the Country View issue.

Only two of Iowa’s 99 counties — Black Hawk and Dubuque — still own nursing homes and subsidize them with property tax dollars.

Dubuque County Supervisor Jay Wickham, who attended the Black Hawk County supervisors’ work session, said his board is using a $1 million hospital tax levy and another $500,000 in general fund tax revenue this year to support its Sunnycrest Manor nursing home.

Wickham said he believes Dubuque County taxpayers support that decision.

Black Hawk County Supervisor Tom Little said it’s time for the board to make a decision on whether it will continue to subsidize Country View or go another direction.

“I don’t want to approve any more (cash) transfers unless we have a plan in place,” Little said. “That plan could be pay for it, everything. That’s fine, but we’re spinning our wheels when we do that.

“There’s so many multiple problems, and I don’t think we can fix them all,” he added. “I don’t know if we can sustain that cash flow out there.”

Country View staff has said publicity the facility’s uncertain future has been upsetting to residents and makes it harder to fill vacant staff positions.

“Being in the papers frequently makes it difficult to attract good staff,” said Country View Administrator Dennis Coleman.

Board members took no votes Tuesday but are asking a consulting firm to develop a plan for the optimal number of residents Country View should have to maintain its best cash flow.

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Waterloo City Reporter

Waterloo city reporter for the Courier

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