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Walsenburg Care Center sets closing date

by Larry Patrick

WALSENBURG- The new year is less than a week old and already Walsenburg is faced with more economic gloom.  The owners of the Walsenburg Care Center announced to employees and families of residents that they will be closing their doors on Mar. 4. Administrator Myra Hampton told the World Journal that their census was down to 18 and that the company was hemorrhaging money and could not continue on its current course.

    The announcement sends another shock wave through Walsenburg as a long time business is forced to close its doors for financial reasons.  Another 40-50 jobs will be lost in the county.  The unemployment rate in Huerfano County is already much higher than the state average.

    Officials from Beneficial Living Systems, the non-profit organization that owns the Walsenburg Care Center, sent out letters to families about the closing.  Employees learned of the situation Monday morning.  The company was offering “stay pay” to employees to keep the facility open until the Mar. 4 closing.  Hampton says the Work Force Center will offer employees help in putting resumes together in hopes of finding other work.

    Families of residents of the nursing home will need to find openings in facilities in Trinidad, Pueblo or other nearby cities or take residents home.  Hampton says many of the long term residents and long term employees are like “family” and they now have to leave each other.

    The Walsenburg Care Center owners have worked with the city of Walsenburg, Huerfano County officials and others on getting land to build a new facility in Walsenburg.  The current facility at 7th & Albert is just too old and the company didn’t want to keep putting good money after bad into it.  Fewer families were taking loved ones to the Walsenburg Care Center because of conditions of the old facility.  The nursing home is licensed for 43 beds but with only 18 residents the company was reportedly losing $25,000 or more per month.

    The current Walsenburg city council couldn’t get a deal done with the state of Colorado to get back land it had leased long-term. The City was considering selling four acres to the nursing home, near the hospital, if they could have gotten it back from the state.  Mayor Quintana, an appraiser with the County, felt the land was worth $100,000.  The nursing home owners didn’t want to pay that much and wanted to trade their current property for the four acres of land near the hospital, but city councilman Erin Jerant bluntly told them last year the city wasn’t willing to trade.

    The Huerfano County Commissioners and the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center have also made efforts to get something done.  However, nothing has panned out within the time frame which would keep the facility open.  The latest consideration is getting 17 acres of land west of the hospital to build a new nursing home and assisted living center.  But nothing is close to a final deal.

    Huerfano County Administrator John Galusha told this reporter that the newly formed Spanish Peaks Community Foundation may make getting a new nursing home their first project. But the foundation doesn’t have its 501c3 non-profit designation yet, and Galusha says it could take a minimum of 18-24 months to get a new facility operational.  Getting loans, grants and startup money would be time consuming.

    Galusha says Beneficial Living Systems is willing to put money into the project, but they would like the city, county or other entity to build the facility for them to lease.  In this current economy, neither the city nor the county has the funds.  Building a facility to be operated by a private entity could create problems too.

    Galusha says the biggest stumbling block is the certificate of need for Walsenburg.  With the Walsenburg Care Center closing, the state of Colorado could take away the bed allocations (43) for Walsenburg and getting them back could be difficult.  Colorado has only approved 100 additional beds for the entire state in the past 10 years.

    The local hospital is considering filing a letter of intent to take over the beds, but the Colorado Health Department would have to be willing to put the certificate of need on hold for two years or more until a new facility is built.  If the state is unwilling to do so, then the community loses its certificate of need and a nursing home facility could be gone for a long, long time.  Medicare only approves so many beds for a facility, and if a nursing home closes, Medicare is reluctant to give those beds back.

    Ideally, all parties concerned would like to see a brand new 40-bed facility that would also include “assisted living” apartments for people not needing a nursing home but unable to care for a home on their own.  A market analysis would need to be done to see how many units could be supported locally.

    The city of Walsenburg can’t catch a break.  With the CCA prison not scheduled to reopen this year, the city is slated to lose about $300,000 in water, gas and sewer revenues.  While the nursing home isn’t nearly as large as the prison, they still pay out thousands of dollars monthly for water, sewer and gas.  So the city could lose up to another $50,000 in utility revenue.

    As a result, paying the bond payments for the state-mandated wastewater treatment plant gets just a little more difficult for the city.  The mayor and city council were hoping that the opening of the new grocery store would help offset the loss of some of the jobs from the closing of the prison.  Now, the closing of the nursing home will cost Walsenburg about the same number of jobs being created by the new grocery store.