Report recommends upgrading Rice Care Center image, services

WILLMAR -- The Rice Care Center should continue to focus on providing short-term rehabilitation and medically complex care, a consultant's report has recommended.

WILLMAR -- The Rice Care Center should continue to focus on providing short-term rehabilitation and medically complex care, a consultant's report has recommended.

The report also suggests a new role for the facility: short-term assisted living for people who need extra care but don't require skilled nursing.

This upgraded image could help the Rice Care Center meet some of the specialized needs of the older adult population and remain competitive with other nursing homes in Kandiyohi County, the report concluded.

The recommendations were presented to the Rice Memorial Hospital board of directors and administrative team Friday during a day-long planning session that had long-term care as the centerpiece of its agenda.

A strategic planning document will be crafted during the upcoming weeks. It will be reviewed again at a second planning session in March. Once it's adopted, it will become a blueprint for the city-owned hospital's goals and priorities in 2006.


With a $50 million-plus expansion and renovation of the hospital building nearly complete, Rice has turned its attention to facility needs at the Rice Care Center, the long-term care center it owns and operates.

The consultant's report, put together by Pat McCullough of Health Planning and Management Resources of Edina, takes a look at the Rice Care Center's market area, regional demographics and its market position.

McCullough also analyzed occupancy rates and the local supply and demand for both skilled nursing care and assisted living.

Her conclusion: The Rice Care Center serves an important niche and should continue to fill that niche.

"You've already established an identity for short-term rehabilitation and complex medical care," McCullough said. "You have extensive rehab capabilities."

Her report recommends capitalizing on this by adding a related service -- special-needs assisted living.

Although the local market is already saturated with assisted living, there's room for assisted living that offers a higher level of care or allows people to stay for a short time, McCullough's report said.

This could be targeted at people who leave the hospital, aren't yet well enough to go home but don't qualify for a nursing home stay. Or it could be individuals who are starting dialysis or chemotherapy and need extra care to get them through the initial hurdles of treatment, McCullough said. "Assisted living would be a wonderful place for them to live," she said.


Her report didn't measure the demand for this type of service, but it recommends developing construction cost estimates for 10, 15 and 20 units.

The report also recommended upgrading the Rice Care Center building to make it more attractive to residents and potential customers.

Although it has undergone several renovations and cosmetic improvements, the building is still stuck in an earlier era, when residents were expected to share rooms and bathrooms, McCullough said.

The Rice Care Center's physical appearance puts it at a disadvantage in the market, she said. "The quality of the living environment is what people see first. You've got a ways to go with that."

Private rooms and baths should be a priority in upgrading the building, she said.

The report didn't make any specific recommendations about new construction or the extent to which the existing Rice Care facility can be upgraded. Those are questions that the hospital board and hospital officials will likely address in upcoming months.

Statewide, nursing home use is down as more people opt to stay in their own homes. Nursing homes themselves also struggle with slim financial margins and aging buildings.

Nevertheless, there will be a continuing demand for nursing home beds in Willmar, said McCullough.


"We're really beginning to see a regionalization of those services. Older people move to be closer to health care services," she said. "I think Willmar will continue to be a magnet."

That was echoed by Kate Selseth, program director for the 27-county Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging.

"It's really important that Willmar maintain its capacity. It's a very vital community and those vital communities draw people," she said.

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