Alternate options, referendum for Health Care Center up for review
Portage County Health Care Center (PCHCC) Committee members have taken a step back in the future of the Health Care Center, choosing to revisit alternate options that include a possible referendum for the Health Care Center (HHC).
“I am not throwing anything out at this time,” Committee Chair Jerry Walters said. “One might just be the answer.”
During the roughly two-hour meeting Wednesday, Aug. 17, several members of the public continued to question specifics about the proposed partnership with the Sisters of St. Joseph (SSJ) and the role of current county employees and the center residents, they asked the committee to hold a referendum for dollars to build a new center and fund it operationally, and to examine other private business options.
Though the agenda included possible action, no action on the options was taken.
The deadline for putting an item on the Nov. 8 election ballot is Aug. 30. Because the research into the other HCC options cannot be completed nor the County Board vote on the referendum prior to that date, spring would be the earliest the issue would go to the public, should the committee and County Board choose that route.
Reviewing how the HCC is handled in a business sense also will be under advisement. Committee member Meleesa Johnson has previously asked for the county to look into prior business plans and implement them, or create a new one.
“I am going to request the development of a business and marketing plan,” she said this week. “I believe that the failure to take action on the recommendations of the various (previous HCC) studies has led to the situation which we find ourselves, and further believe there are other options for running our county health care center business.”
The county has said that the HCC should be self-sustaining, however the past 10 years, the county has levied about $15 million total to taxpayers to pay for HCC operations.
Stevens Point Alderperson Cathy Dugan, District 6, suggested that perhaps the $15 million is less of an operation loss than a failure for Portage County to invest adequately in the HCC facility.
Walters is preparing to add four items to the committee’s next agenda for discussion and possible action including determining the year-end loss associated with the HCC, creating a Request for Proposal for the center to be sent out to gauge interest from any other nonprofit and/or private businesses, review and potentially create new a business plan for the center and finally, examining the possibility of going to referendum for funds to build a new facility, funds to operate the facility annually, or possibly both.
“I am asking that they, the committee members recommending these action items, step up and step in to get it done,” he said.
The next HCC committee meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 21.
The current proposed public-private health care continuum venture would be with SSJ-Third Order of St. Francis, Milwaukee Catholic Home (MCH) of Milwaukee and Presbyterian Home & Services (PHS) of St. Paul, Minn.
The Sisters plan to construct a roughly $45 million to $50 million campus that includes senior living apartments, assisted living units and memory care assisted living units, and they offered to construct a new health care center as well with a $10 million county contribution to help with building costs.
The public’s questions and concerns surrounding the operation of a nonprofit, Christian-based facility for county residents continue plaguing county officials. County officials have said the county cannot continue to fund the home, as it is not a mandated program and several years ago began looking into other options, including selling to another business and entering into a partnership.
A proposal to build a new center was cut by the Capital Improvement/Economic Development Committee in 2014, and the exploration into the ensuing proposed partnership began.
Following the HCC Committee’s approval of the partnership idea, Portage County Executive Patty Dreier placed the $10 million contribution in the 2017-22 Capital Improvement Plan in June. It has been a sticking point since.
The CIP Committee meets again Thursday, Sept. 8, to discuss and act upon the CIP. Though the HCC Committee is examining alternatives for the HHC, the CIP Committee does not have to eliminate the dollars from the plan; the committee could choose to shift that amount to a later year and still approve the plan. The CIP is reviewed and approved on an annual basis.
Walters said he believes other options for the HCC have been examined and the partnership is the best one on the table at this point, but he is not willing to overlook any other alternatives.
“Even though I have a strong opinion, I will get my committee to do their work to make sure our patients, staff, administrators, the public, the board, the executive and I (all) know we have done our due diligence on this very important county service,” he said.
“So it is not one sided, and not uninformed,” Walters said.