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Heritage gets strong show of support from community PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Friday, 20 January 2012 15:35

With a full house on hand, Village Board member Page Johnston introduces Village Board members, right, during the board’s informational meeting on the town’s proposed purchase of Heritage of Wauneta. Panelists at the left of Johnston above, who were also introduced, include from left, CPA Doug Kucera of Grand Island and Rural Health Development consultants Janet Lytton of Shelton and Jo Fuller of Cambridge.

 

By Tina Kitt

The Wauneta Breeze

 

This past summer, when Vetter Health Services first told residents of Heritage of Wauneta and their families the nursing home could close in 12 months, Wauneta native Lynn McBride, now of Shelton, said he didn’t spend much time worrying after “Vetter dropped the bomb.”

He told himself, “This is Wauneta. They won’t let that happen. Wauneta will pull together and support the nursing home.”

McBride’s old hometown is doing its best to live up to those expectations.

Members of the Village Board of Trustees and community volunteers last week doubled-down on their commitment to pursue ownership of Heritage in order to guarantee the nursing home remains open, providing a home to more than 30 residents and employing a workforce of 60.

They found themselves in good company when over 70 concerned citizens showed up for a public information meeting last week, nearly unanimous in their support for the Village Board plan.

Time and again throughout the 90 minute meeting audience members rose to explain what Heritage of Wauneta has meant to them and their families.

McBride, whose mother, Lucille, lives at Heritage drew applause from the full house on hand at the Wauneta American Legion Hall last Thursday night when he concluded his remarks in praising those who have worked toward keeping the nursing home open as well as expressing his gratitude to the professional and caring staff at Heritage.

Village Board member Page Johnston gave an overview of the $800,000 needed to purchase, upgrade and operate Heritage during the transition: $75,000 to purchase the building and contents; $300,000 for required bed licenses; $225,000 to install a fire-sprinkler system; $150,000 cash flow for the first month of operation; $50,000 for miscellaneous expenses.

The name of the facility will no longer be Heritage of Wauneta, as that is a proprietary name significant to VHS, and a management firm will be hired to oversee operation of the nursing home once it comes under Village ownership.

Johnston explained that arrangements are being made for four investing entities — three area financial institutions and one local utility business — to purchase $125,000 each in facility revenue bonds, generating $500,000. The Village of Wauneta will put up $150,000 from funds held in reserve, leaving a minimum of $150,000 to be raised from donations.

“Make no mistake, there are risks associated with this venture,” said Johnston in welcoming questions and comments.

Questions were asked about the possible presence of asbestos or lead paint in the building, with Johnston explaining that environmental testing has already been scheduled to determine if asbestos is present in the building. Lead paint is not a specific concern, he noted.

Others asked whether the bed licenses should be purchased before buying the building, with Johnston explaining that committee members have had a juggling act on their hands. “Everything is contingent on the elements all coming together” adding that all transactions proposed are voidable if the elements do not all fall into place as needed.

What if the number of residents drops or revenues fall short?

Johnston said that is where building up cash reserves will be critical.

While $150,000 in supporter contributions are being sought, that is a baseline goal with organizers hoping to exceed that amount in community donations.

In the event the number of local nursing home residents drops dramatically over time, negatively impacting revenues, Johnston said the building and assets of the facility would be sold to help cover any remaining balance for the revenue bond holders.

The manner in which the bond sales are being structured however, would NOT require the Village to raise taxes or sell other assets to cover the bonds. That is one of the reasons organizers choose to go with revenue bonds rather than with general obligation bonds. Due to the nature of a general obligation bond, going that route would have required a vote of the townspeople where a facility revenue bond does not, explained Johnston.

Board members were asked if they had considered other uses for the building, such as an assisted living or VA facility?

The existing configuration doesn’t lend itself to including an assisted living section or facility without significant construction noted board members.

Loyd Christner of Wauneta, reminding those in attendance that he had played a significant role in getting the nursing home built, asked if problems with low water pressure at Heritage have been taken into consideration.

“Let’s say you put that sprinkler system in there and there’s a fire. If my house was on fire at the same time there wouldn’t be enough water pressure to save my house,” said Christner.

“Will you guys sitting on the board sign an affidavit to ensure that those of us living up there have the same fire protection as you have down here? That we’ll be safe?” charged Christner.

Board members pointed out that since Heritage was built and those low-water pressure issues noted, a large municipal water tower has been constructed on the hillside south of town at an elevation well above Heritage and the residential neighborhood on the hill to the west providing more than adequate water capacity and pressure.

Johnston assured Christner that engineers with Miller and Associates have been consulted as have specialists with the fire sprinkler company.

“Those are the people who are imminently qualified to address this issue and we’ll have to defer to their better judgement,” said Johnston, with Board Chair Lloyd Sinner adding that he was more than confident in Miller and Associates and their expertise.

The board was also asked about the ramifications of taking the property off the tax rolls when it becomes owned by the Village.

Johnston explained that with Heritage off the tax rolls a Wauneta homeowner paying $1,500 in property taxes could see an increase of approximately $21 a year as the loss of tax revenue from Heritage is offset.

Along with playing devil’s advocate, Christner concluded his comments with words of praise for the facility, noting that when he was recovering from hip surgery he had the option of going to the VA hospital in Scottsbluff or coming to Heritage. “And I chose Wauneta, Nebraska and Heritage.”

One Heritage employee stood and thanked the community for their efforts, noting that without their help 60 people would be without a job in 90 days and 30 people would be without a home in 90 days.

Johnston thanked him and others for their questions adding “the risks are real — this is not meant to be a feel-good session.”

 

Costs of losing Heritage

outweigh risks

While there are business risks associated with ownership, noted Village Board members, there are even greater risks to the economic well-being of the town, county and region if Heritage is allowed to close.

Johnston pointed out that over the past several decades those who have served on the Village Board have done a good job in putting the Village in very sound shape financially allowing them to set aside reserves even while making upgrades to the town’s streets and infrastructure. This was possible due in large part to the money generated by electrical sales from Wauneta’s Utilities Department.

If the town were to let 60 jobs go along with the revenue from electric sales to Heritage, which averages $25,000 annually, it would have a crippling effect on nearly every local business, noted board members. “There’s a great risk to our town if we let it close,” said Johnston, adding that the financial ramifications, combined with the impact a closure would have on the lives of those living at Heritage, make it worth the risks associated with the Village taking ownership.

 

Fundraising campaign launched

Noting that time is of the essence, community volunteer Terry Engell explained how supporters could make a tax-deductible contribution to help raise the $150,000 needed to make the transfer of ownership possible.

A special account is being established at Valley Bank and Trust where donations for the nursing home will be deposited, with donations being accepted at the Wauneta Village Office. These funds can only be used for the nursing home and if something should happen to derail the transfer of ownership to the Village, all contributions will be returned to their donors, said Engell.

Checks should be made payable to the Village of Wauneta, with “Heritage” or “Nursing Home” noted on the check’s memo line.

Donations can be mailed to the Wauneta Village Office, P.O. Box 95, Wauneta, NE 69045.

A web site has also been established at www.savewaunetanursinghome.com where credit card or PayPal donations can be made and updates on the project will be posted.

Dr. Doug Nicholson of Imperial stepped forward at last week’s meeting with a $1,000 donation, challenging others to do the same. Since then several matching contributions have been received, including a $1,000 donation from the Wauneta Chamber of Commerce. Engell said all contributions large and small are needed as quickly as possible with Feb. 15 the targeted deadline for reaching the $150,000 mark.

 

How You Can Help

 

When ownership transfers from Vetter Health Services, the nursing home will become community-owned, note organizers, with everyone encouraged to ask themselves what they can do for their hometown nursing home.

 

The most pressing need is the $150,000 in cash contributions that need to be received before the end of February to allow the transfer of ownership to move forward. Donations are being accepted at the Village Office and will be deposited in an account established at Valley Bank. Checks should be made out to Village of Wauneta - Nursing Home Fund, with “Heritage” or “Nursing Home” written on the check’s memo line. You can mail your donation to: Village of Wauneta, ATTN: Save Wauneta Nursing Home, P.O. Box 95, Wauneta, NE 69045.

 

A web site — www.savewaunetanursinghome.com — has been established to keep out-of-town supporters updated on the progress of local efforts. Donations can also be made on the web site via credit cards or PayPal.

 

Once the funds have been raised and the sale completed community members are urged to help promote the Wauneta nursing home and to consider utilizing the facility for their own health-care and long-term residency needs.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 January 2012 15:39