New owner of nursing home seeks county help to reopen

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

MOUND CITY – The new owner of a former nursing home at Prescott appealed to the Linn County Commission on Monday, July 19, for financial help in renovating and reopening the facility. Owner Jessy Willard, Prescott, who appeared along with consultant Fred Hermes, asked commissioners to help with the start-up costs of rehabilitating the building.

In presenting his qualifications to the commissioners, Hermes said he had been in senior care for 35 years and was an expert at it. He has been involved in operation, design, and facility development. “Over the last 13 years, I have developed over $140 million worth of senior care properties.”

Hermes also gave a start up budget for the nursing facility to the commissioners.

Hermes said that he had been to Linn County at the request of Willard more than a year ago. He said he also met with Jessica Hightower, Economic Development Director, in late April.

He said the facility could be renovated and brought up to speed with new private rooms. Hermes said that shared rooms and rooms that residents shared bathrooms were old school, and everything he has done in the last 13 years was private rooms.

He proposed taking it from a 60- to 80-bed facility and turning it into 27 private rooms, and that the newer wing that had been added for Medicare could be made into six residential care units.

He projected that Linn County could make $1.3 million per year and that county money invested in that facility could generate as much as seven times that amount in the local economy.

With a rural facility like that, help from the county – whether in the form of property tax abatement or other support – would be necessary, Hermes said.

County Commissioner Jim Johnson asked if there were still fines to be paid from the previous facility operator. Hermes said that fines do not pass on to the new owner and that no fines were due.

Hermes reported that he would help with managing the facility, first by completing paperwork to get all licensing up to date. He said that he had recommended to Willard at least two management companies that he could hire. The cost for this was put in the budget that Hermes gave the commissioners.

Commission Chair Rick James told Hermes that he had given a great presentation but questioned what they were asking of the county. Willard said that they were asking the county to support this non-profit facility and assume responsibility of the building for $750,000.

“If you could support us with one mil, it would cost the taxpayers $1 month,” said Willard. “I can’t see the negative of it.” He added that it would just be for the first couple of years.

James said that if the group wanted to go any farther, they needed to come back with a plan.

Commissioner Danny McCullough said the he would like to see the county get something going, including putting together a hospital board.

Johnson said that he was not going to vote on raising taxes unless the people vote for it on the ballot.

Linn County Counselor Gary Thompson outlined three ways for the nursing home to receive funding. First, the commissioners could come up with a way to take it out of the county’s general fund.

The second option was to create a hospital district, and there are two ways to do that:

  • The commissioners can create and impose it on certain parts of the district.

  • Willard could create a hospital district by promoting his program and doing a petition drive in the specific area he wants to tax. This could be the whole county except for Lincoln and Scott townships, which already have their own hospital district. This petition would have to have 51 percent of the registered voters of that area. The commissioners would have to form a district if enough signatures were on the petition.

Thompson said there might also be a third way if Willard wanted to issue bonds for the nursing home. Thompson said he would have to look into this further.

The bonds would be issued by the county but Willard's company would be responsible for repaying them.

Linn County Clerk David Lamb pointed out that Lincoln and Scott could not be involved and that 65 percent of the valuation in the county comes from them. One mil for the whole county raises $285,000 in taxes, but without Lincoln and Scott townships, 1 mil raises only $98,000.

Thompson also pointed out that Willard could visit with the Lincoln Scott Hospital District Board and see if they would disband and join in his project. If they agreed, he would have to get signatures from 51 percent of the whole county.

Willard told the commissioners, "I understand that if you guys want it, we can work together.Do you want it or not? I’ve done my part.”

James told Willard that his point was if Willard carried a petition, it would allow the commissioners to make a better decision.

Willard asked about an advisory election. Lamb said that could cost up to $20,000 and probably would not be on the ballot until next year. Thompson said there was nothing in the statutes that lays out a voting process except for an advisory vote, and that was not binding.

McCullough said that he would like the commission to help Willard anyway they could.

McCullough moved to have Thompson help Jesse put together a petition. The motion failed for lack of a second.

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