Letters to the Editor: May 10, 2023
Letters to the Editor published in the May 10, 2023 issue of the Tomahawk Leader.
Caring now is better for everyone concerned
NOTE: The following letter was submitted with support from more than 50 Lincoln County residents.
We who sign this letter are Lincoln County residents. We believe this county has a moral obligation and the financial resources to keep Pine Crest Nursing Home in good operating condition, that Pine Crest should not be sold, shut down, or demolished.
As of this writing, 80% of Pine Crest residents are on Medicaid, which is the least generous of payer sources. That is to say, the vast majority of Pine Crest residents are poor. And since most privately owned nursing facilities limit their Medicaid admissions to 10-20%, it’s obvious that Pine Crest, like other publicly owned nursing homes, is a refuge for the most vulnerable among us. Their care depends on public support. Responsibility for that care belongs to us.
The county board would have citizens believe that there is inadequate money available to save Pine Crest, that the lack of funds is strictly a county problem. There are, as of this writing, roughly 5 million dollars of ARPA funds in county possession. (ARPA stands for American Rescue Plan Act, and the 5 million was allocated to the county by the federal government.) In addition, the county is in a position, with its 100,000 acres of county forest, to sell carbon credits for at least 5 million dollars. That money may not be immediately available, but any agreement would be legally contractual. The current county board has not explored or acted on that offer.
It’s true that the state legislature, over the last 15 years, more or less, has squeezed county revenues to the point of great stress (from highway maintenance to the nursing home), even as the legislature has roughly 7 billion dollars—not million, billion, which is 7,000 million—as a “rainy day fund” that it has been unwilling to share with local governments.
The Marathon County board met on April 25 and passed a resolution asking the state legislature to assist in the funding of both Marathon County’s Mount View and Lincoln County’s Pine Crest, and that resolution is to be on the agenda of the Lincoln County board when it convenes on May 16 at 6 p.m. It is rational to anticipate a unanimous yes vote on that resolution.
In addition, various agencies of the federal government have all manner of grant programs available to local governing bodies. We recognize that researching those programs and submitting grant proposals takes time, and that an already barebones county administration is stretched for time. This is a Catch-22, but a county with pressing need cannot afford to allow beneficial programs to slip away—or the money associated with those programs—for lack of creative initiative or political vision.
Keeping our most vulnerable people in good health, with high-quality care, is our collective moral responsibility. The county can afford it. We can’t afford not to afford it for what that would say about our lack of compassion. Not caring until you need care might be better than never caring. But caring now is better for everyone concerned.
No guarantee that those in need will be accepted in other counties
At the March Lincoln County Board meeting, the Board decided to hold two town hall hearings on what to do with Pine Crest Nursing Home in Merrill.
The first town hall occurred in Tomahawk on April 6. Due to a relatively short notice, only six or so individuals showed up. According to an attendee, they were in opposition to continuing county ownership. None offered if they had or have any family member, neighbor or friend in Pine Crest. There are and have been patients from across the county residing at Pine Crest.
The second hearing took place in Merrill on April 12. A great many showed up in support of the county continuing the operation according to an attendee.
Credit is due to the Ad Hoc Committee for spending some time exploring alternatives for the uses of Pine Crest. It is largest of only three nursing homes in the county that accept Medicaid patients but is facing many challenges as are all other nursing homes in the state. Many residents in this county cannot afford a long-term stay in commercially run nursing homes, so Medicaid acceptance is crucial.
At the April County Board meeting a few supervisors expressed their desire to either sell or hand off operations at Pine Crest. The Board decided against a county-wide referendum on the issue and was directed by the chair to bring back their choices.
Revenue coming in and budgeting for expenses of operations are the driving forces behind most board decisions. Which begs some questions.
The Board was aware that Pine Crest was costing more than what it was bringing in for a while. Why was no effort made to pursue revenue options like post-op rehab that were originally proposed when the latest additions were added to Pine Crest pre-Covid? Covid messed up many things, but we now have more options.
The Board was also aware that the Highway Department needs additional revenues in order to keep up with current operations, plus the additional costs it has now.
So why did the Board eliminate the so-called “wheel tax” that brought in over $564,000.00 for the Highway Department and also defund over $857,000.00 designated for road construction from the Highway Department’s 2023 budget?
There are two county departments that actually contribute to the general fund – Forestry and the Landfill. All other county departments depend on the tax levy to some extent to operate in spite of many years of cutbacks in their operating expenses.
An option to consider is to continue with Pine Crest Nursing Home being partially dependent on the tax levy as are the other services departments in the county. There are grants, absent state funding, and Medicaid reimbursement to supplement those costs.
As the residents of Lincoln County age, we will be more dependent upon care services. There is no guarantee that those in need will be accepted in other counties when the need arises.
Diana C. Smith