by HANNAH BROADBENT
In late April, Elim Care announced it’s closure in Watertown. After 50 years in the community, Watertown has spent over a month trying to cope with the news.
“I know people that work there,” said resident Dawn Kroonblawd when she first heard the news. “These people are going to have to start all over.”
Weeks later, the conversations haven’t stopped, Elim enters almost every city council conversation and Economic Development Authority (EDA) meeting. Little news accompanies the topic.
“The facility itself isn’t suiting Elim’s needs, it’s probably not going to suit anyone else’s,” said Mayor Steve Washburn back in April. “We’re going to have a lot of discussions about what to do going forward.”
The city and EDA are sure of one thing, they will not be buying the property. City Administrator and the EDA members said perhaps if Elim offered it to them for the right price they’d be happy to purchase the property.
The 3.6 acre land is worth around $144k and the building is about $3.4 million.
“We’re not looking into buying until someone has a viable option,” said EDA President Ken Grotbo.
“Elim is going to be prohibited until someone has a vision,” added the Community Development Director Mark Kalsas at an EDA meeting.
Fineran said the property can be rezoned and reused for anything. The EDA liked the idea of commercial or retail space for the plot saying it has ideal access being right off of Highway 25.
For now, the city is doing what they can to attract a third party and are still talking to Prairie River Senior Living about the 65 bed home downtown, according to city council member Lindsay Guetzkow. She said that is one topic the community survey covers – whether or not the city should be using tax money to attract contractors.
“The closing is disappointing,” Fineran said. “We’re working to try and find reuse of that property for a similar type of need.”
The survey is part of the 2040 comprehensive plan. When talking about the plan, city staff have stressed the focus on making Watertown a place for community members so to spend their life.
“There is a concern and focus of how do we also meet the needs of our aging residents who have to look elsewhere to meet their needs,” Fineran said.
Avie Wasser expressed her surprise at the closing of Elim to Carver County News in April. Wasser said she 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 found what she was looking for in Lester Prairie.
According to Fineran, Maxfield Research and Consulting conducted a market analysis on Watertown and found that there is a need for independent living type of housing, or congregate housing. Maxfield found that 24 units of housing over the next five years is appropriate for the city.
Studies like this one is something that Washburn said the city wants to continue to do.
“Our role is communicating with interested parties and assist in traditional things that cities do,” Fineran said.
ELIM CLOSING BACKGROUND
According to Carver County News archives the home was set to open October 1, 1966 as the Birchwood Manor. After one initial delay that was meant to cause a week later opening, the Birchwood Manor was opened November of 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, 2017, 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.
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 Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 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 homes in Carver County that all 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, 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.”
With the closing of Elim, more 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 Mayor Washburn said he wishes was done already.
“These things take time,” he said. “Hopefully that happens this year.”
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 keep busses and vans available for the residents to tour other facilities.
Elim will also be having job fairs for the 100 person staff. The fairs will include other Elim houses as well as outside care facilities with job openings.
“The goal is to retain as many employees as possible,” he said.
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, Buffalo or Maple Plain.
Employees will be able to work at the facility until the day of closing, June 24, 2017, or until the last resident is out of the home.