New nursing home turns out to be solution as well as a blessing

My what a difference two years has made in the outlook of Aurora’s nursing home care.
A report at last week’s county board meeting drove that point home in spades, shedding new light on a story that has been well documented here in Hamilton County, though perhaps not fully understood. In light of a changing landscape that is apparently putting nursing homes at risk all across Nebraska and the nation, Aurora and Hamilton County are so very fortunate to have a brand new nursing home facility with a visionary manager and board of directors leading the way.
Last week’s front page story shared insight from Kirk Penner, Westfield Quality Care’s chairman of the board, who reported that all 64 rooms at the new skilled care facility are now full and there is a waiting list to get in. He also noted, amazingly, that not only are all 85 positions filled (generating an annual payroll of $2.4 million), but that management is actually turning applicants away. That’s just not happening in today’s workforce environment and it says a lot about the reputation and job opportunities at Westfield.
The transition from Hamilton Manor to Westfield, though criticized by some, ended years of taxpayer subsidy to keep the doors open and began an era in which the new facility generated $60,000 in property taxes last year. That’s a massive pendulum swing.
The county board was open about awarding valuable bed licenses to a local, for-profit investment group in order to keep the nursing home here in this community and was also well aware of the high cost that would be required to have the Manor demolished and the remaining vacant lot prepared for sale. Now given a broader perspective on the challenges facing the nursing home industry, both of those decisions seem prudent and necessary.
From the outside looking in, what this report confirms is that Westfield Quality Care is a wonderful new asset for our community. It means the world to local families to know that their loved ones are being cared for in a first-class facility, and that they can visit frequently here at home.
Beyond that convenience and comfort level, however, there is a broader message that suggests the timing of the transition was even more significant than we might have known. The New York Times recently reported that 440 rural nursing homes have closed or merged over the last decade, including five here in Nebraska just last year. Penner reported that 18 in-state facilities are now in receivership and in danger of closing if investors don’t step forward.
Contrast that with the situation in Aurora and it becomes more clear that the transition from Hamilton Manor to Westfield Quality Care was not only a solution, but a blessing.
Kurt Johnson

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