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Legislators have eye on closure of Willmar, Minn., nursing home

WILLMAR -- The announced closure of the Willmar Care Center, a 52-bed skilled nursing home in northwest Willmar, was on the radar of legislators who met with senior citizens Wednesday in Willmar.

Rep. Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, said there was concern that the facility, which she said is "under duress," follows state and federal laws for properly closing the facility and that the residents "are well taken care of and that they're not going to be forgotten or put some place inappropriately."

Deseret Health Group of Utah, the owner the Willmar Care Center, had initially said it would close at the end of August but this week said the closure was postponed until a later date so that residents could be transitioned to other nursing homes of their choice.

Sawatzky said a number of agencies in Willmar are "very concerned about that facility" and "a lot of people are paying close attention to it."

Sawatzky said it's unfortunate the facility is closing, and that it's important nursing home beds in Willmar are preserved.

Rep. Erin Murphy, of St. Paul, said the closure of the Willmar Care Center is an example of why it's important to have "a strong regulatory framework in place."

She said the Department of Health and Department of Human Services have been monitoring the facility and the federal government has been paying attention to the situation.

"And as the issues are unfolding, we're learning some things that are a little disturbing," said Murphy.

Murphy didn't provide further details about those concerns, but in later comments, Sawatzky said the primary concern was that proper procedures are followed for the closure of the facility and care for the residents.

Murphy said she's grateful the state entities are "on top of this" and that laws are in place for the transition of the residents. "If they were going to close the doors quickly, that would've violated the law," she said.

Deseret Health Group acquired the Willmar Care Center in 2011. It has been the subject of state and federal sanctions in recent years.

According to a story published earlier this month in the West Central Tribune, from December 2012 until May of this year, the Willmar Care Center was under state monitoring to correct what the Minnesota Department of Health said was a pattern of deficiencies constituting immediate jeopardy to residents. In its most recent survey this spring, state inspectors found the facility was back in compliance. The facility also is on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services special focus facility list, a program to improve nursing homes with a history of quality issues.

West Central Tribune Staff Writer Anne Polta contributed to this story.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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