Medical Center closing long term care by the end of September
By BRANDON HURLEY
A notable – and shocking – decision potentially leaves 58 employees and 34 residents scrambling to find new jobs and homes.
The Greene County Medical Center recently announced they will shutter their long term care department – also known by many as the nursing home – for good on Sept. 28.
The medical center cites industry struggles, a lack of occupants and financial concerns as the main reasons for closing. The company held an impromptu press conference Wednesday, July 27 after reaching the decision during their most recent board meeting.
“There were many, many factors that were considered,” said Greene County Medical Center CEO Chad Butterfield said. “Some of them were long term care in general, as an industry, has been struggling over the last couple of years. The occupancy rates have been declining. Families and their loved ones are more interested in aging at home as opposed to entering nursing homes or long term care.
COVID obviously has played an impact in that, or within Greene County Medical Center, we’ve been struggling to compete with some of the newer buildings, and the amenities that those buildings offer.”
Butterfield said the Greene County Medical Center as a whole is focused on keeping its roots in Greene County. Unfortunately, cutting ties with the long term care department, located on the hospital’s second floor, is one of the casualties of an uncertain future. Butterfield said the cost of upkeep and necessary renovations would have been too dire, contributing to the closure.
“Our physical plant, as you guys know, is older and in need of remodeling and renovations and that really becomes difficult for us,” Butterfield said. “Because the construction costs are so high, building materials are high. The age of our facility really makes remodeling or renovation somewhat cost prohibitive and really not practical.”
The board and the Greene County Medical Center tried to make things work, they said, but there simply was no way to keep the facility operable. New construction - considering the scope - was going to be much too costly.
“Once we start making structural changes, to really correct that then what ends up happening is we have to open Pandora’s box and and bring everything up to the most current department of inspection and appeals requirements,” Butterfield said. “It’s just becomes incredibly costly. Financially our goal continues at the medical center to be to ensure that we’re here in 5, 10, 15, 20 years so ultimately, this is the unfortunate decision that we decided upon.”
The long term care department can comfortably fit 60 residents at its fullest, though occupancy has steadily held around 34 for the last few years, Butterfield said. The count has never surpassed 45 in the last two years, while a steady decline has taken shape over the last nine months.
HOW’D THEY GET HERE?
The Medical Center Board considered the impact and scope of their long term care many times over the last few years. They mulled building a new facility, remodeling the current department or even transferring residents to other facilities or selling the on-site facility to a private company.
Eventually, the Medical Center board decided closing the facility was the best option considering the potential costs and age of the facility.
Remodeling was an issue because of the facility’s grandfathered inspection status. A full remodel would require up-to-date and satisfactory bathrooms, doorways and hallways.
“If any changes are made, all new requirements must be met, being very cost prohibitive and timely,” the medical center noted in a release.
The Medical Center was facing a dire situation, financially, if they continue to operate the long term care facility as is. It’s been suffering for some time, the hospital said.
“Reimbursement calculations for Medicare, Medicaid, and all of that are incredibly complex,” Butterfield said. “I think it’s safe to say the negative impact at the medical center over the last few years has been significant operating the long term care. We believe that it is in the best interest of the taxpayers that we move this direction. (And for the) Greene County Medical Center, trying to ensure that we’re here for years to come.”
According to studies, Greene County Medical Center said in a release, nationwide nursing home occupancy rates are currently 71%, with Iowa being 74%. In addition, current polls reveal 77% of seniors prefer aging in place or aging at home, according to AARP. (credit Greene County Medical Center).
The decision to shutter the long term care facility was not an easy one, board chairperson Jim Schleisman said.
“It was extremely difficult,” he said. “I waffled between yes and no. And because of the interest of the hospital, I had to agree that it was time to do it. I was very saddened by the decision. But with all the factors considered, I believe it was the best option for our residents to place them in a facility of their choice. Yes, it was the most difficult decision I have had to make.”
The Medical Center said they will work with the 34 residents and their families to help place them in another facility. Jefferson offers two other nursing homes, Regency Park and Thomas Rest Haven. Perry, Carroll and Boone also offer a number of facilities.
Butterfield said they will give each of the long term care facility’s employees a severance package, while they also encourage them to apply for any open positions within the Greene County Medical Center itself. The 60 day notice was something the board and the hospital came to an agreement upon, feeling it would give both their employees and residents plenty of time to transition. Thirty-nine employees are full or part-time, the hospital said.
“The team members were all provided with 60 days notice from today (July 27). The 60 days is an opportunity to make sure that each of the families have plenty of time to find a facility of their choice to place their loved one,” Butterfield said. “Ultimately, we understand and we appreciate that there’s a certain level of stress that comes with the the notice of closure. And our goal was to try to give as much runway as possible so that each family member has an opportunity to find that location for their loved one and and get them placed.”
Butterfield said the hospital will get as involved with resident placement as the families would like.
“Each individual family probably has their own methodology on how they’re going to do it. But we certainly want to make sure that we are a resource,” Butterfield said. “We have engaged, Accura Healthcare, to assist us not only to make sure that we’re meeting all the appropriate requirements for a situation like this, but they’re also going to help us with the transition for those loved ones from Greene County Medical Center long term care to the facility of their choice.
In short, if the family wants us to be intimately involved, we will. If the family has decided that they know what they’re going to do, and they’re going to do it on their own, we’re going to give them that that latitude. But, we certainly don’t want any family member or their loved one to feel as if they’re being left in the in the cold.”
The hospital said they have not decided what yet to do with the soon-to-be empty space that houses long term care residents. They haven’t yet thought that far ahead, Butterfield said, instead choosing to focus on the employees and residents.
“I want to thank the families for allowing us the opportunity to take care of their loved ones,” Butterfield said in closing. “It’s incredibly unfortunate, and not what any of us wanted, to be faced with the closure of long term care there. Our goal right now is to ensure that their family members continue to receive the high quality of care that they’re used to, and that we’re able to find a location and work with the families to get their loved ones located to the facility of their choice.
Our goal at the medical center, has been and will continue to be, to always ensure that we’re going to be here in 5,10,15 and 25 years. We believe that these difficult decisions help us continue to make sure that that happens.”