Boots & Sabers

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0858, 17 Jan 23

What to do with Samaritan

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

Washington County’s Samaritan campus is at a crossroads. The time for tough decisions is upon us.

What should county taxpayers do for the people currently housed in the crumbling edifice of neglected obligations?


The second question to ask ourselves is, assuming county taxpayers are committed to providing for the county’s impoverished seniors, should the county own and operate the facility to do so? Experience should guide our answer to this question. Our collective experience is that, with exceedingly rare exception, government is terrible at running things. Government is a convenient, often abused, mechanism for the forced pooling of resources to expend on collective needs, but is pervasively inefficient, ineffective, and unresponsive when in charge of operations. We can see this in action at Samaritan itself, where decades of poor management and neglect have forced the county to this crisis point.

In Wisconsin, only 36 Wisconsin counties currently operate senior care facilities according to the Department of Health Services. The other counties either partner with private facilities to subsidize senior care where needed or forgo the financial obligation altogether. Washington County should transition the current residents to private facilities and support that transition with adequate funding. Using the COVID relief or opioid settlement monies to fund this transition might be necessary.

Whether or not county taxpayers should, or can, subsidize senior care moving forward will take some further thought. In the current arrangement, the taxpayer obligation to seniors is capped by the number of available beds at Samaritan. It is a physical cap. If the taxpayers subsidize senior care in private facilities with flexible capacity, would such a program attract seniors from outside of Washington County and become an unsustainable drain on taxpayer resources? Such potential unintended consequences will need to be mitigated should the county decide to subsidize senior care indefinitely.

One thing is certain. The situation at Samaritan has become intolerable and inexcusable.


0858, 17 January 2023


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