The question of what to do with Samaritan has been bubbling for years. Samaritan is the senior living facility run by Washington County mainly for seniors who need advanced care and can’t afford other facilities. The building is falling apart and the facility is an increasingly expensive burden for county taxpayers. Former Washington County Chairman Don Kriefall has some thoughts.
We have a responsibility to protect our seniors. As County Board chair, I advocated to find a way to continue to fund Samaritan. But common sense must rule in this matter. COVID-19 has inalterably changed the health care induDonstry. We cannot find enough qualified individuals to properly staff the facility. This is not just a Samaritan issue; there is a nationwide shortage of health care workers. Up to $15 million in upgrades are needed just to make the 54-year-old facility functional. That likely would only prolong the facility’s useful life by no more than ten years, after which, the county would be faced with the same dilemma, with a much higher price tag. Constructing a new facility is estimated to cost $35-50 million, or roughly $1 million per resident, requiring the county to accrue debt, with taxpayers footing the bill for the interest payments. Neither option is fiscally responsible.
When we started this process in late 2020, our consultant WIPFLI told us that if Samaritan were to close, private nonprofit skilled nursing facilities would have the capacity to accept our residents. Families would still be able to visit their loved ones regularly without undue hardship. The private sector can capably handle this responsibility to our seniors. Once all residents are resituated, there will still be a cost for the demolition of the aging Samaritan facility, but the ongoing financial obligation to the taxpayers will end.
Closing Samaritan is not pulling the rug out from our seniors or ending our obligation to provide for those in need. Our responsibility to respect and protect our seniors does not end with the closure of an aging, dilapidated building. Placing each resident in a safe and secure facility is the objective, no matter who is providing the services. Maintaining our own skilled nursing facility would be nice, but it would not be judicious or practical to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to do so for less than 50 people. Government is not tasked to provide services that the private nonprofit sector could. It should provide necessary services only.
Taxpayers cannot be continually asked to make financial sacrifices. Taxpayers should not be required to support a continually burgeoning government. This is the state and federal governments’ making. Taxpayers have the right to demand that government spend their money wisely, and are not taxed twice for the same service. The time has come for cooler heads to prevail and to finally allow the private sector to oversee our aging senior population, as most Wisconsin counties have done. This way, the needs of the few will be fulfilled without overburdening the many. This is the most responsible and sensible solution for the future of Samaritan.
When faced with a range of bad options, sometimes you can only choose the least bad option. In this case, I think we can all agree that we need to find a way for these seniors to get the care they need. While I do not think that this is a core function of government, the fact that the county has been caring for these seniors to date imparts some responsibility on the county. I tend to agree with Kriefall on the necessary outcome, but I’d support a transition plan where the county taxpayers help transition the residents to new facilities both logistically and financially.