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St. Luke’s cuts, ElderCare expands

By Staff | Mar 30, 2009

While the owner of Winnebago’s nursing home is expanding into eastern Faribault County, a Blue Earth facility is scaling back its workforce.

Some workers at St. Luke’s Lutheran Care Center already have had the number of hours they work reduced.

On March 20, 14 part-time and full-time employees were told their services were no longer needed.

One worker says a series of individual meetings were held with the employees that day. Workers having the day off were told to report and were given the bad news.

Administrator Gene Nelson says the layoffs are due in part to funding cuts state lawmakers are proposing.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget has less state aid for health and human services, and the Senate wants a 7 percent across-the-board reduction.

“The House wants to go deeper than that. It doesn’t look pretty going forward,” says Nelson. “We need to get ready for them.”

According to Nelson, funding has decreased while expenses continue to grow.For example, he says the cost of providing health insurance for employees has risen nearly 30 percent — $350,000 — the past year.

All departments were affected by the layoffs.

Nelson says if the state’s financial condition improves some workers could be called back.

“We didn’t fire anyone or let them go because of their performance,” he says.

Meanwhile, ElderCare of Minnesota has reached an agreement to purchase Parkview Care Center in Wells and assume operation on April 1.

ElderCare owner Jim Birchem now owns two facilities in the county and one in Martin County.

Deb Barnes, administrator at Parker Oaks Communities, Inc., in Winnebago, says it took several months for a deal to be completed.

She says Birchem’s rural background played a part in purchasing Parkview.

“He’s dedicated to keeping long-term care in rural communities. That is his mission,” she says. “He has a passion for rural America and keeping it strong.”

Barnes says none of the nursing homes Birchem owns are in metro areas, all are in towns with populations of less than 5,000.

Parkview, like Parker Oaks, has around 100 employees.

Barnes says for now all the staff will be retained and she will serve as an interim administrator during the transition.

However, possible cuts in state funding could require some changes.

“We are really looking hard at what the situation is as far as staffing. We are going to have to do some adjustments in hours,” she says.

“They have been warned of that and are aware of it,” she adds.

Meetings have been held with staff to gain input, Barnes says, and any cuts made will be done with the least affect on services provided.