Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Hilltop Care Center is one of several medical facilities owned and operated in central Minnesota by Paynesville Area Health Care System (PAHCS). The long-term care nursing home has earned a high standing in the industry, in the community, and among its patients and their families. There seems to be no question that Hilltop provides excellent care and is integral to Watkins in particular and to the broader community.
So it was a surprise in December when PAHCS announced that it was looking into options for the future of Hilltop that include the possibility of selling it or even closing it.
The financial reality is that Hilltop is losing about $300,000 each year, primarily because of inequity in state reimbursement. Hilltop is located in Meeker County, which ranks in the mid-level for reimbursement (based on the logic that costs are lower in "rural" Minnesota). Being less than a quarter mile from Stearns County (where reimbursement rates are $18-35 per bed per day higher), one can safely assume that costs at Hilltop are similar to those in nearby facilities. Employee recruitment, training, pay and benefits; utilities and maintenance; medical and housekeeping supplies - that quarter-mile difference doesn't necessarily make costs lower at Hilltop.
Enter Minn. Rep. Dean Urdahl on the scene. He authored a House bill, H.F. 19, to increase reimbursement for nursing care facilities when they are geographically close to higher-reimbursing counties. Rep. Larry Hosch joined the bill as co-author. The bill received a hearing before the House Health and Human Services (HHS) Finance Committee on Feb. 22. Annette Schroeder (Nursing Director at Hilltop), Bev Mueller (PAHCS Administrator of long-term and acute care), and Dennis Loch (Watkins councilman) all testified for the bill.
The correlating bill in the Senate is S.F. 87 and it is co-authored by Senators Scott Newman and Michelle Fischbach. The Senate HHS hearing was Monday, March 21. Schroeder and Mueller testified for the Senate version of the bill as did Kathleen Tschumperlin (Watkins councilwoman) and Fr. Richard Gross of Watkins.
A "busload" of others from Watkins attended both hearings.
The result of both the House and the Senate hearings is the same: the bills will be laid over for possible inclusion in the respective omnibus bills. The next step would be comparing the House and Senate versions and negotiating changes to make them the same before passing them out of committee and to the House and Senate floors for a vote.
Rep. Hosch indicated the House vote could be "within the next couple of weeks." He will identify the key players in the negotiations, and these individuals are those to whom letters of support should be written. One major hurdle Hosch identified is the fact that the HHS committee must cut $1.86 billion from the omnibus bill it will present to the House for vote, and H.F.19 will add some cost to the state.
The Tri-County News is following both bills, and will post updates on our website as they are available. You'll find links there to House and Senate sites where you can read the bills, and follow their progress.