Official warns of tax impact without Lasata expansion

Administrator says taxpayers may have to cover nursing home losses if new facility isn’t built to generate revenue
Ozaukee Press staff

If Ozaukee County leaders decide not to invest in a fourth facility at the Lasata Senior Living Campus in Cedarburg, as some supervisors have recently suggested, then they should reconcile themselves to the probability of supporting the complex with property taxes, a committee of supervisors were told last week.

“We either need to move this direction or accept that we need to contribute tax levy” to continue supporting the nursing home, County Administrator Jason Dzwinel last week told members of the county Executive Committee after some supervisors questioned a plan to invest $4.5 million in a community-based residential facility, or CBRF, at Lasata.

The CBRF is needed, Dzwinel and others have said, to complete a “continuum of care” and to generate revenue to support the nursing home, which operates at a loss.

“We’re keyed in on the CBRF because we know we have that gap, clinically,” he said.

Dzwinel has recommended using about $4.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds from an available pool of $8 million for the CBRF, while local nonprofit groups and other county projects are competing for the rest of the funds.

The campus currently includes the Lasata Care Center, a 136-bed skilled nursing facility; Lasata Crossings, a 60-unit assisted living facility; and Lasata Heights, a 60-unit building for independent seniors.

For years, county officials have considered adding a 24-bed CBRF, saying the campus loses a number of residents each year because Lasata lacks such a facility, especially in light of changing market demands.

A consultant earlier this month told supervisors a new market study should be conducted since the last one was completed in 2019, prior to the pandemic.

That study estimated a CBRF would generate about $2 million in revenue annually and realize a “profit” of about $700,000, assuming 90% average occupancy and 100% private-pay patients paying about $6,400 a month.

The Lasata Senior Campus and its three components are considered an “enterprise fund,” meant to support itself without tax levy support and perhaps even turn a profit to pay for maintenance and make improvements.

Since about two-thirds of the care center’s residents rely on Medicaid, a federally funded program administered by the state that does not cover the cost of care, Lasata’s business model calls for drawing more Medicare and private-pay residents at Heights and Crossings to cover the losses.

The number of residents at the care center has dropped from about 130 before the pandemic to about 67 in 2022, according to state records.

That has contributed to operating losses of about $500,000 per year in recent years, Dzwinel said.

That, coupled with recent public criticisms of the facility by former nurses, have caused some supervisors to question whether to invest more money in the facility.

“I’m not a huge fan of the Lasata project,” Supr. Joshua Haas said last week during the Executive Committee meeting. “I’m not in favor of using half those (ARPA) funds for this project.”

Supr. Paul Melotik disagreed.

“I think this is a good use of ARPA money,” he said. “It’s an expansion of the business that makes sense. We got the money just handed to us by Uncle Sam.”

Dzwinel said he will come back to the committee with an estimate on updating the 2019 market study.

“I believe it will be very low in cost, but if it is in excess of $10,000 I will return to the committee to see if they wish to move forward with the market update,” Dzwinel said in an email.

County Board Chairman Lee Schlenvogt said an update is warranted.

“We have to look deeper at a new study before we jump into this,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dzwinel told the committee that six people have applied to be the new Lasata campus administrator and replace the former administrator who was fired in January over personnel management issues referenced in public comments to the County Board by the care center nurses.

Dzwinel said interviews are under way and said a decision may be made as soon as early April.

“It’s an aggressive schedule but one I think we will meet,” he said.

The nurses complained that nursing care at the center had suffered and that there was a “mass exit” of staff.

Schlenvogt acknowledged that Dzwinel had “put out smaller fires before there is an inferno” at the care center.

Dzwinel said, “Admittedly, there were some challenges with the leadership team at the facility,” but denied that patient care had suffered, noting that per patient nursing care hours have been twice the state requirements, even amid staff shortages.

According to state Department of Health Services Division of Quality Assurance data, nursing turnover last year at Lasata was 53.2%, about the same as the statewide average (53.1%) and slightly below the national average (53.9%).

In addition, average total nursing hours per day per patient at Lasata over the last year were 4 hours and 53 minutes, compared to a state average of 3 hours and 49 minutes and a national average of 3 hours and 45 minutes.

As of Jan. 31, DHS data also showed the care center has had no complaints, fines or citations over the last three years.

Dzwinel said last week that new hires were outpacing the number of staff leaving Lasata so far in 2023.

“That hasn’t happened in a couple years,” he said.

That’s in part due to bonuses being offered to new hires — $10,000 paid out quarterly in $2,500 increments, he said. If they wait until the end of their first year before collecting any of their bonus money, they can collect an additional $1,500 bonus, he said.



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