Editor's Note: This editorial has been updated to clarify that Supervisor Chris Schwartz provided a list of ideas to supervisors to consider to save Country View.
Earlier this month, the Black Hawk County Board of Supervisors voted to hire a real estate broker to help find a buyer for the Country View care center.
We can certainly appreciate the difficulty of coming to this decision. However, it’s a decision that is long overdue.
Country View, which is more reliant on Medicaid reimbursements than most private care centers, is projected to run a $2 million budget deficit this year and a $3 million loss in the next fiscal year.
“It’s going to be a continuing spiral, and we’ve got to do something to stop it,” Supervisors Board Chairman Craig White said.
Complicating matters, the top two administrators at the facility recently tendered their resignations. Dennis Coleman, who has served as administrator at Country View for two and a half years, has resigned effective Wednesday. Assistant Administrator Genevieve Shafer had previously submitted her resignation effective Feb. 9.
The county has provided property tax support to Country View through the years, even though it is not a state-mandated service. It should be noted all Iowa counties, save for Black Hawk and Dubuque counties, have long gotten out of the business of running nursing homes — what long ago had been called “county homes.”
There’s a good reason for that. Financially, it’s an outdated model.
In 2014, after similar discussions, we editorialized it was long past time to investigate the possibility of securing a buyer for Country View. The board at that time took no such action and the county has since shoveled millions of tax dollars into the facility just to cover deficits.
Country View lost $610,000 in fiscal year 2016. In August the county transferred $500,000 to Country View. Less than three months later, members of the board voted unanimously to transfer another $500,000 from the county general fund reserves into the accounts of Country View.
A million dollars in less than three months to cover shortfalls.
Country View and the Sheriff’s Office are the largest two departments in Black Hawk County government. A succession of county supervisors has been wringing their collective hands over the facility’s future for decades.
We have heard the same conversations for too long, but nothing changes. Meanwhile, the facility continues to hemorrhage taxpayer dollars.
White initially voted against hiring the firm to assist in finding a buyer — and that option failed on a 3-2 board vote earlier this month. White has since reconsidered, saying he would be remiss if he did not explore a possible sale as a way to keep Country View open, regardless of who owns it, as long as the residents and employees are protected.
Two days later, White and Tom Little changed their votes and joined Frank Magsamen and Linda Laylin in voting to hire Chicago-based Marcus & Millichap to help find a suitable buyer. Chris Schwartz was the lone vote against exploring a sale.
For decades, White served on the facility’s care review committee and through his years on the board it has been obvious he has strong emotional ties to the facility and those who reside there. We respect that. For White to come to this conclusion — that selling may be a viable option — must have been an excruciating process. It’s also a clear sign the time may have come for the county to separate itself from Country View.
During earlier discussions, Magsamen issued a challenge to those who were against exploring a sale to come up with a plan that sustains Country View, protects quality service to those individuals and helps control county property taxes. Apparently, none were forthcoming. (Chris Schwartz did provide a list of suggested ideas for the supervisors to consider).
Laylin also urged her colleagues to reconsider.
“If there was an opportunity for the private sector to improve services out there ... we should at least look at it,” she said. “We can always turn it down. The whole point is making sure we don’t have to close this facility.”
This situation has come to a crossroads. There is a responsibility to the residents of Country View. There also is a responsibility to the county’s property taxpayers.
The responsibility to the former may come through the stipulations required for a sale created by the board as a suitable buyer is sought. The responsibility to the latter will only come if a sale is ultimately realized.