By Hannah Broadbent
From the beginning, Elim Rehab and Nursing Home has encountered bumps in the road.
According to Carver County News archives, the facility was set to open Oct. 1, 1966, as the Birchwood Manor. After what was an initial week-long delay in the opening, the Birchwood Manor was opened November 1967. In 1968, it was bought by Elim Care.
Still, thanks to a need for the home at the time and a grateful community, the facility was open for 50 years. On Tuesday, April 25, Elim CEO and President Robert Dahl announced the closure of Elim Care in Watertown.
“Today is a sad day for the Elim family, for the Watertown community, for the residents of our care center and for the employees who have cared for so many community members throughout the years,” said Dahl in a press release.
Elim is a 55 bed home, and currently has 31 residents.
“It’s been a slow, continuous decline,” Dahl said.
According to Dahl, the drop in residents has been a 5 year-trend. The home has been able to take beds out of service to make private rooms for the existing residents.
Watertown Mayor Steve Washburn said he was surprised and also not surprised to hear the news.
“That type of care is evolving,” Washburn said. “It’s very sad, very shocking.”
Dahl said he thinks the alternative care options and the younger population of Watertown contributes to the lack of residents.
“Fewer seniors are utilizing the services of a skilled nursing facility, preferring less institutional alternatives like assisted living or housing services,” Dahl said.
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014 the number of “home health agencies” in the country were 12,400; “nursing home” providers were 15,600; and there were 30,200 “residential care communities.”
“The preferred options are to stay at home, and more people are able to do that with the assistance of personal care attendants and support from a home health care agency,” Dahl said.
There are around 20 facilities in Carver County that either identify as retirement homes or assisted living facilities. The Elim home in Watertown is the only one that identifies as a nursing home.
A few “senior living” options are close, with two in Waconia and another two in Delano.
“I’ve heard people express envy of facilities in Waconia or Delano,” Washburn said. “They’re more modern.”
Avie Wasser expressed her surprise at the closing of Elim. Wasser lived in Watertown her whole life until three years ago, when she had to relocate due to lack of alternative housing in Watertown. She was looking for townhomes and ultimately found what she was looking for in Lester Prairie.
“Watertown doesn’t have enough senior citizen homes,” Wasser said. “They need to build something.”
Wasser referred to the 65 bed home the city has been talking about building downtown.
“I know single women that want out of the homes they own,” she said. “It’d be full before they got it done.”
With the closing of Elim, additional housing is something the city is going to be thinking about at an ‘accelerated pace’ according to Washburn.
“We feel there’s a need for this type of facility,” Washburn said. “We’re going to do everything we can to attract a new operator.”
Prairie River Senior Center, the 65 bed home Wasser was referring too, has been an alternative housing option that Washburn said he wishes was done already.
“These things take time,” he said. “Hopefully that happens this year.”
Watertown citizens Mary Lou Girik and Barb Schansberg have friends at the Elim facility with no family, and are concerned about what they will do now.
“I’m shocked, I feel sorry for the residents,” Schansberg said.
Schansberg isn’t the only one, Mike Dudley has the same worries. Dudley is a veteran who knows fellow veterans that are now living at Elim.
“Older people don’t like change,” he said. “A lot of them don’t want to move.”
“What’s going to happen to them?” added his fiancee, Alicia Klein.
According to Dahl, the Minnesota Department of Health has specific processes when closing facilities. A part of that process is that facilities have to propose suggested plans of relocation for each resident.
“Of course, it’s up to the residents where they want to go,” Dahl said.
Dahl says it’ll be a team effort between the residents, their families and the staff to help them find options.
Elim will be hosting ‘provider fairs’ for the residents. They will have outside providers come in and present their options. Elim will also have busses and vans available for the residents to tour other facilities.
Elim will also be having job fairs for the 100 person staff. He says their reaction to the news was somewhat muted — they were quiet and didn’t have a lot to say, but there was something that stood out to him.
“I was extremely proud of them,” Dahl said. “Their concern went to the residents, comforting them and reassuring them.”
The job fairs will include other Elim facilities as well as other care facilities with job openings.
“The goal is to retain as many employees as possible,” he said.
Elim Care’s Vice President of Human Resources for Elim Care Angela Brown said the company hopes the staff will choose to work at Elim’s nearby locations, in either Buffalo or Maple Plain.
Employees will be able to work at the facility until the day of closing, June 24, or until the last resident is out of the facility.
Citizens express the same concern for the employees as they did the residents.
“Some people can’t afford to travel,” Dudley said.
Dawn Kroonblawd, owner of Watertown Floral and Formalwear agrees. She’s afraid of these workers leaving town, and how it’ll effect the cities businesses.
Kroonblawd remembers making deliveries to Elim with her dog, and how the residents would shine at their flowers while petting her dog. She said she has known workers and residents, people that have come and gone, and she’ll miss that.
“I know people that work there,” Kroonblawd said. “These people are going to have to start all over.”
Kroonblawd hopes that with the vacant building and lot something useful will come out of it.
“Like an education or development center,” she said.
“I’d like to see it kept as Elim,” Dudley said.
Washburn said Elim owns the building and the city may be interested in the $3.4 million property, but it’s too early to tell exactly what that would look like. The land, according to Washburn, is worth even less.
“The facility itself isn’t suiting Elim’s needs, it’s probably not going to suit anyone else’s,” Washburn said. “We’re going to have a lot of discussions about what to do going forward.”
The one thing people are sure of at this time, is their deep sympathy at the closing.
“It’s not something we thought we’d be doing as an organization,” Dahl said. “Worst of all was delivering the message, it was excruciating.”
“Your heart goes out to people,” Kroonblawd said.