Scandi Haven Village A Reality Due To Persistant Determination of SCBHS Board, Staff

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By Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News

 

With the groundbreaking ceremony for Scandi Haven Senior Living & Memory Care Wednesday, April 4, at 10:30, Swift County-Benson Health Services will finally be visually celebrating the start of an important chapter in the facility’s future.

A need for an assisted living facility in the community was identified more than 15 years ago with a study in 2002. Additional studies in 2014 and 2016 also showed a high demand for assisted living as well as a memory care facility.

For too long, families have had to take their loved ones to distant communities when they suffered from memory loss and could no longer be cared for locally. Families also sought assisted living facilities in neighboring communities 30, 40 and 50 miles or more away. The travel distances meant they could not be with them as often as they liked and friends were far less likely to stop by to visit. It meant a loss for local businesses as they bought their medications out of town and shopped for goods in other communities.

Not caring for all our older residents who needed assisted living and those suffering memory loss also meant a significant financial drain for our health care services, both clinic and hospital. As the SCBHS governing board worked to turn around an operation that was suffering from too few medical providers and multiple years of steep financial losses, it explored the addition of a memory care and assisted living facility. The financial studies showed that such a facility would go a long ways toward turning the red ink into black in relatively short time.

Other strategic steps were taken as well. SCBHS took over operation of the clinic from Affiliated Community Medical Centers. It faced the need to cut financially draining operations of home health services and Counseling Associates, knowing other agencies in the community were also providing the same services.

SCBHS made the change to a provider-based rural health clinic model leading to a greater level of reimbursement for services as well as greater control over the delivery of healthcare for the community.
It still has changes to make as it works to become a more efficient and financially sound operation. CEO Kurt Waldbillig has shown how physically restructuring the SCBHS facilities to be more efficient could save staff time and improve services to the community. But that change will have to wait until it is in a better financial position.

It has been a long, at times highly frustrating and discouraging journey, for the board of governors and administration to get to the groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for next Wednesday.

SCBHS Chief Financial Officer Dan Enderson and Governing Board Treasurer Brian Samuelson have received praise from city officials, CEO Waldbillig, and the governing board members for their persistent, dogged effort to get financing lined up for the assisted living-memory care facility.

Despite challenge after challenge, frustration with the number of times financing options were blocked, Enderson and Samuelson persisted. They doggedly looked for new financing paths when the one they were pursuing became unworkable.

Waldbillig also deserves credit for changing the conversation several years ago from an outside company coming in and building the facility to it being locally-owned and operated. He saw the profits that stayed in the community from its operation as key to making the hospital financially sound. He also never gave up on building the assisted living and memory care facility despite a lack of support from Swift County’s board of commissioners.

That lack of support delayed by a least a year or more the construction of the facility and has meant it will cost hundreds of thousands more in the long run to pay off due to higher construction costs and interest rates. With county and City of Benson backing, it could also have been a somewhat more enhanced facility than will be built.

While the City of Benson offered to back the sale of general obligation bonds for the assisted living-memory care facility, three of the five county commissioners opposed it. It was disappointing that the two county commissioners who represent Benson, Ed Pederson, District 2-north Benson, and Pete Peterson, District 3-south Benson, both opposed backing financing for the facility. They were supported in their opposition by Eric Rudningen, District 5-Kerkhoven.

It was ironic that Appleton area Commissioner Gary Hendrickx and Commissioner Joe Fox, District 4-Hegbert Township (far western Swift County) were the two vocal supporters of providing county financial support.

The bonds that would have been levied for construction would have ensured a very low interest rate and would have been paid back by revenues earned through the operation of the assisted living-memory care facility. But Peterson, Pederson and Rudningen argued that low corn prices and other county building needs made it unwise for the county to bond for the facility. They also said that SCBHS should be going through the United States Department of Agriculture for financing.

The $3 corn argument was weak for two reasons. Over the term of the bonding – let’s say 20 years – the price of corn would rise and fall. Voting for it when corn was $5 a bushel would ignore the fact that three years later it might be at $2.50 And, second, the financial studies done by SCBHS showed a high demand for the facility virtually guaranteeing it would have the cash flow needed to pay off the bonds. SCBHS wasn’t asking for money, it was asking for backing. The USDA financing point was sound. It meant a federal government financial guarantee, but it also brought constraints on the design of the facility.

That is all history now; though SCBHS (and that is all of us who live in the area) is faced with much higher costs for the assisted living-memory care facility’s construction and financing.

More than 50 people are on a waiting list for rooms at Scandi Haven and the SCBHS board is optimistic that once people find out that a memory care facility is being constructed in Benson that more people will be inquiring about the services offered.

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