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Exemption will allow Granite Falls, Minn., to build new nursing home

GRANITE FALLS -- In 1958, or two years after Metropolitan Stadium was erected for the Minneapolis Millers, citizens in Granite Falls voted to build the Manor nursing home for elderly in need of long-term care.

Metropolitan Stadium went down in 1985.

It's now time to replace the Granite Falls Manor nursing home, the board of directors for the municipal hospital and nursing home has decided.

The Granite Falls Hospital is pursuing plans to construct an estimated $10 million facility that will offer 48 skilled nursing beds in place of the 57 currently licensed in the Manor.

"I get real excited about it,'' said Granite Falls Hospital and Nursing Home Administrator George Gerlach in reference to what will be constructed.

The new facility will offer private rooms for residents with their own bathrooms and showers. The current Manor nursing home consists of double-occupancy rooms. Two rooms of four residents share one bathroom.

The new facility will feature two separate "neighborhoods'' around which the private rooms will share common areas. It will also include a "celebration'' or common area for events and social interaction.

"Flexibility'' was the key word in the plans developed by Tremain Architects and Planners, of St. Paul, according to Gerlach.

Minnesota has had a moratorium on new nursing home facilities for about 35 years. It periodically allows facilities to obtain exemptions to renovate or replace their facilities.

The Granite Falls Manor obtained an exemption in March, one of 14 projects approved, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

It now has a two-year time frame to break ground under terms of the exemption.

There are challenges, including finding the ground. The hospital board originally eyed a 40-acre site on the edge of the city's industrial park with the idea that someday a new hospital might be built there as well.

Now it is exploring other options. Ron Fagen, founder of Fagen Engineering, has encouraged the hospital to consider constructing the nursing home in the midst of a residential area on the city's east side instead. It would require the hospital to acquire 60 vacant lots owned by 27 different parties. A Fagen Inc. employee is currently contacting the landowners to determine if they would be willing to donate the lots.

The hospital board has also stepped back from its goal of a 40-acre campus, and is looking at other smaller-sized parcels for a nursing home only, said Gerlach.

The Granite Falls Hospital and Manor has support from the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development for financing a project.

The nursing home operations are subsidized by hospital revenues. The Granite Falls Hospital eked out the smallest of margins in the past year, and is bracing for challenges ahead, according to Gerlach.

Beginning next year, Blue Cross/Blue Shield will implement changes in how it reimburses hospitals. The changes are projected to reduce revenues at the hospital by $900,000 annually, he said.

Before launching this project, Gerlach said the hospital hosted focus sessions with community residents. The message came through loud and clear: People want to continue providing care for the elderly in the community, so that they can remain near family. They want to continue a tradition of quality care, he said.

It's not yet known whether the Manor nursing home will ultimately go the way of the Met stadium. "That's the question everybody asks that I don't have an answer to,'' said Gerlach when asked what will happen to the current building.

He said the hospital is considering whether it would be more economical to re-purpose the nursing home facility -- which is attached to the hospital -- or demolish it.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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