Borough turns to medical center for assisted living management

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(Residents of Mountain View Manor participate in the 2019 4th of July Parade in St. Petersburg. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

The Petersburg district government plans to transfer the management of its assisted living facility to the Petersburg Medical Center. It’s not a done deal, but the Borough Assembly on Monday gave the green light to investigate the possibility.

Borough Director Steve Giesbrecht sought assembly approval for the borough attorney to consider transferring the management of assisted living to the medical center.

Giesbrecht said the borough was unable to find a replacement for outgoing mansion administrator Shelyn Bell and also competed with PMC to fill other vacancies.

“What we’re discovering is between the hospital and us, we’re stealing employees from each other,” Giesbrecht said. “So we’re just going back and forth, which doesn’t do the community any good, but we both have needs and we’re trying to meet them. And it’s becoming very clear that we have to do a better job working together on this facility if we’re going to keep it functional and open.

The borough has already responded to staff shortages by filling vacant apartments with people who need a lower level of care.

The borough-run assisted living wing of Mountain View Manor opened in 2004, essentially doubling the size of this building, which also has a senior housing wing. Voters approved the bond for this expansion in 2003. It filled a gap between independent living and long-term care at the medical center, but it operates at a loss that is made up each year from the borough’s general fund . A 2019 report by a consultant found no quick fix for the mansion’s finances, but also identified staffing as a problem, even before the pandemic hit.

Giesbrecht told the assembly that the medical center could be better equipped to handle it.

“We think there are opportunities where the hospital has the staff and the knowledge to do this much better, not better, more efficiently than what we could do on our own, especially losing someone like Shelyn with all of her experience and the fact of the matter is we can’t find anyone,” Giesbrecht said. “I don’t want to have to recommend shutting it down and we can’t find anyone.”

The idea was supported by the assembly.

“I look forward to the proposed deal when you discuss it with the attorney just to see what potential possibilities are available,” Mayor Mark Jensen said, adding “We’ll just have to work on it at this point.”

Any deal to transfer the facility would come back to the borough assembly at a later date and the manager said there was a lot of work to do and many questions remaining about what it would look like.

There is also some interest from the medical center side. On a radio show earlier this month, CEO Phil Hofstetter said the hospital could step in if the need arose.

“If this is something the borough wants to do, you know we’ll do everything we can to support this partnership,” Hofstetter said.

The municipality has looked at other management options in the past, from an independent not-for-profit association to a private corporation.

In related news, the assembly also gave the go-ahead for PMC to begin reviewing potential borough land plots for a new medical center.

Borough director Giesbrecht explained what that would mean.

“Basically site selection involves having to do a bunch of testing of the soil, how deep is the muskeg,” he said. “It’s also part of finding locations. What are the roads like, what are the utilities like? And Phil has money for that now and I think the hospital would really like to start on that.

Federal legislation passed this year provided $8 million for the project, and the borough is also in line to receive an additional $20 million for site preparation and design. In the master plan, PMC considered five potential sites, including one near the city center. The medical center’s board of directors passed a resolution last year in favor of a phased approach to building a new facility with three of the five under consideration. These are near the Indian Association of Petersburg building, Mountain View Manor, and the ball fields.

The hospital board and assembly are planning a site selection meeting on June 14th.

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