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A giant leap for new nursing home

Delegates move forward with $23.8 M building plan

July 24, 2009
OSSIPEE — There were cheers and thumbs-up at Mountain View Nursing Home on Monday after the Legislative Delegation decided to move ahead during the Carroll County Legislative Delegation meeting.

In a three-hour meeting held at the county complex, the delegation, made up of 14 state representatives, set the course for proceeding with the construction of a $23.8 million project in a series of votes.

Nursing Home Administrator Sandra McKenzie described the mood following the meeting as "very, very up beat."

"The residents and the staff are excited and look forward to moving ahead with their new home," said McKenzie on Tuesday.

She said news of the decisions traveled back to the nursing home more quickly than she did.

"Word travels fast," she said.

"I think the commissioners are happy," said County Commission chair David Sorensen on Tuesday morning, adding he wished to thank all the people who packed the room to listen to the meeting.

The delegation decided three major things during the well-attended meeting: Carroll County will stay in the nursing home business; plans to build an 85,000 square foot facility and not a smaller alternative should be pursued; and the delegation will approve $300,000 expenditure for site work on Aug. 31. The delegation has to wait to approve the money then because of public notice laws. But the County Commission is allowed to use its own money for the site work now and then it will be reimbursed.

The vote to proceed with the full 85,000 square foot facility was 12-2 with delegates Gene Chandler (R-Bartlett) and Karen Umberger (R-Kearsarge) in the minority.

"I don't think it makes sense for us to stay where we are," said delegate Ed Butler, (D-Harts Location) explaining his support for a new nursing home. "I don't think it makes sense for us to do something less than what we can."

The vote to approve the $300,000 in site work was 13-0-1 with Chandler abstaining.

Prior to the meeting, there was some speculation about moving the county out of the nursing home business. However, interest in leaving the nursing home business seemed nonexistent and the delegation voted unanimously (13-0) to stay in the nursing home business within about 40 minutes of the start of the meeting. Delegate Rep. Christopher Ahlgren, (R-Wolfeboro) was absent for that vote.

"Unless there is someone on the delegation that thinks we need to talk about not having a nursing home, why don't we skip over that and get to the part about how much it's going to cost," said Chandler. Soon after, delegates questioned whether or not a new nursing home could be built for less money.

Commissioner Chip Albee described plans for a 55,000 square foot building at a cost of $15 million but it would not be as comfortable for residents and would not solve problems such as lack of storage space.

Some delegates wondered if a compromise building in the $18 million range would work.

But Building Committee member Jim Martin (R-Brookfield) said cutting the building committee's proposal could lead to costly mistakes. For example, Martin said, Grafton County cut funding for the boiler room out of its new building and that created problems that were more expensive to fix.

"I would urge you not to second guess the building committee too much," said Martin.

Delegate Robert Bridgeham (D-Eaton Center) worried that cutting the funding would create a system of "winners and losers" that in place at the current facility. Winners, he said, were people who have beds next to the window while the losers were next to the door. The $23.8 million would allow for more people to have window side beds while a reduced facility might not.

"Why would we build a place where there are winners and losers from the get go," asked Bridgeham.

Out of concern for the impact on taxpayer, Ahlgren, suggested the commission make a goal of raising $2 million in private funds to offset the cost of construction.

"Anything we can do to lessen the burden on the taxpayers is a worthwhile endeavor," said Ahlgren.

Donations to the 501c3 will generally be tax deductible, said Ahlgren.

After a lengthy debate, his motion passed in a 10-4 vote. Ahlgren said he didn't think raising the sum would be difficult; noting a wealthy benefactor could donate it all at once before he or she dies.

The 40,000-square-foot Mountain View facility, built in 1968, needs to be replaced for several reasons, according to County Commissioner Dorothy Solomon in a phone interview last week. The flat roof has had leaks and possibly has mold; the small rooms house two people and do not have adequate space for wheelchairs; the windows are drafty; and the building is poorly insulated.

One study called the building, a "severely obsolete facility." At 347-square-feet per bed, Mountain View is well below the 420 to 450-square-feet minimum size that many states require.

In addition, said Solomon, four residents must share a toilet and they must travel down a hallway to get to the bathtubs and showers. The bathrooms are also small and that makes life difficult for wheelchair bound residents and staff, said Solomon.

If built, the new building would not increase the number of beds over the current facility (103) because the state has a limit on how many beds are allowed per county.

However, a new facility would likely increase the average occupancy number from 97 to 101 because it would have a blend of private and semi private rooms, said Albee.

The current facility's occupancy rate is lower than the proposed facility's occupancy rate is projected to be because four people of the same sex must share one bathroom and it takes time to replace someone who has left.

In July 2008, the county delegation voted unanimously to support the replacement of Mountain View. However, since then some members such as delegation chair Rep. Betsey Patten (R-Moultonborough) have raised concerns about cost because of the ailing economy.

Among the people coming out in support of the project was Karen Juvonen, a former member of the nursing home's Family Council, who spoke about her mother's experience at Mountain View. She praised the staff but criticized the condition of the building.

"It's time we put an end to the ridiculous and insulting flip flopping on this issue and build a facility that provide medical assistance, a nurturing environment, and gentle support to those in need and their families."

The crowd at the meeting was so large that it spilled into the hall behind the meeting room. Patten was reluctant to make more space until County Attorney Robin Gordon asked her to allow more people to listen. After a brief discussion the delegation moved their tables together to accommodate more people.

Sorensen said the town's fire chief told him there were 110 people trying to watch.

"I hope we don't have another hot button issue like this one again," said Patten.

Martin Lord Osman
Tilton School
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