Dubuque County seeking solutions for Sunnycrest Manor funding - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Dubuque County seeking solutions for Sunnycrest Manor funding shortfall

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DUBUQUE COUNTY (KWWL) -

Taxpayers in Dubuque County are footing an average $8,000 bill every day for the county-owned and operated nursing facility, Sunnycrest Manor.

Every year, Sunnycrest spends some $3 million more than what it takes in from Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, and taxpayers are funding it, according to Dubuque County's budget director Michelle Patzner.

However, some say that's just the price of quality care.

Sunnycrest Manor resident Rosie Tucker sat in the facility's solarium Wednesday afternoon. The room's name dates back to its original use as a sun porch, when the facility opened in 1920 as the county's tuberculosis hospital.

Four strokes and no family in Dubuque led Tucker to Sunnycrest Manor, where her outlook on life matches her nails and her name.

"They show their love here, and I feel so comfortable here," she said.

Sunnycrest's administrator Cathy Hedley started working at the facility as an 18-year-old nurse's aid and has stayed all these years for the mission.

"The people that we provide services for are the people that are low-income, and most of them have a mental health diagnosis or a diagnosis of intellectual disabilities, so the people that we get, traditionally, are people whose needs can't be met in the typical nursing home."

Dubuque County, however, has formed a new task force to scrutinize Sunnycrest's finances, after costing taxpayers an average of $3 million per year since fiscal year '08, according to numbers from Patzner.

Dubuque County supervisor Daryl Klein is on that task force.

"We feel that that's not sustainable and really isn't fair to the taxpayers of Dubuque County, when any other similar facility is required to balance their budget every year," Klein said.

The task force is exploring ways for Sunnycrest to cut costs and raise money, and all options are on the table right now, Klein said.

"We're going to try to make every attempt to keep the facility open and running as close to normal as possible, but there's always that possibility that, you know, maybe we'll have to have someone else come in and operate it and the county would get out of the business, and there's also the possibility that it could close," Klein said.

The task force will be touring Country View Care Facility in Black Hawk County, Klein said, the only other facility in Iowa owned and operated by a county.

"This is a big deal, and we need to make sure that we do the right thing for the taxpayers and for the residents and employees of Sunnycrest," Klein said.

The county employs more than 200 people at Sunnycrest Manor, a mix of full-time and part-time workers. Hedley said much of the high cost comes from a well-compensated staff, but their contracts are union-negotiated.

She said she hopes the situation doesn't come down to closing the facility, but while the task force explores options, residents like Tucker will continue rolling along. Tucker was proud to show off her motorized wheelchair Wednesday.

"I call it my Cadillac," she said, grinning.

Sunnycrest has approximately 115 residents.

To break it down, Dubuque County assessor Dave Kubik said a Dubuque County taxpayer with a house valued at $150,000 would pay $61.61 per year. The owner of a business valued at $300,000 pays $233.29 per year.

Hedley said the facility is applying for non-profit status so they can fundraiser, something they haven't done in any significant amount in the recent past.

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