At 9:45 a.m. on April 5, the administrator for the Crandon Nursing Home's Facebook page posted the following:
"The ownership of AGI Healthcare has made the difficult decision to voluntarily close the facility after over 29 years of successful operation," the post read. "It happened because it is no longer possible for small independent owners to operate and maintain financial viability in a small town."
AGI is Arizconsin Group, an investment company headed by Robert Roth with the Crandon facility, its only nursing home.
The Facebook post, based on a press release issued by AGI, explained most of the residents' care is funded through the Wisconsin Medicaid program and that reimbursement has not kept pace with the rising labor and supply costs.
"We are working carefully to find alternate settings to meet our residents and staff individual needs and partnering with area facilities to place all residents in the appropriate new locations," the post continued. "We are conferencing with the Department of Health Services to meet the requirements of this endeavor. Rest assured, we will remain open until all of our residents are appropriately placed. This is a sad time for our residents, staff and community."
On April 10, as it does every day, The Lakeland Times received several press releases.
One release in particular, though, had to do with the closing of the nursing home in Crandon.
From Mark Ferris, the executive director of the Forest County Economic Development Partnership, it stated the abrupt, unexpected closing of the Crandon Nursing Home "has created a crisis situation for the Forest County community."
Ferris said when notice of the facility's sudden, pending closure was released, the FCEDP called an emergency meeting with city and county officials on April 5 to discuss the situation, hoping to find a way to keep it open.
He told The Lakeland Times last Tuesday the reason for the closing "is financial in nature."
"The business situation, what it is per Mr. Roth, the owner, is that they can no longer continue," Ferris said. "He has put, first and foremost, the residents and their families in an extremely difficult situation. There was virtually no notice provided. Literally, a week."
He said AGI staff conducted at least one meeting last week regarding relocation of the nursing home's residents.
"They're in the position of trying to find a new place to live," Ferris said.
He said there's only one other nursing home in Forest County, in the Laona-Blackwell area and while it has taken in some of the Crandon Nursing Home's residents, it won't be able to accommodate all of them.
"That facility being what it is, they won't have the space to take on all these residents," Ferris said. "So, what you're looking at is you have a number of residents who are local here, obviously their families ... now they're faced with having to move their family member, their loved one, out of the community where it's going to be difficult to visit with them. You can imagine the situation he's created."
He said an interim administrator for the nursing home has been brought in by AGI Healthcare.
"They're just leaving a real trail here," Ferris said.
He said the families of the nursing home's residents were told they had 30 days to find another place for their loved one to live.
"In reality, they (AGI Healthcare) can't do that," Ferris said. "If those residents don't have a place to go, they have to keep it open."
He said from the perspective of the city, county and the FCEDP, every option is being looked at.
"If there's anything out there, you know, potentially an operator who could come in and kind of salvage things," Ferris said. "That was our motivation for sending out the press release. Sometimes, you think you've exhausted all the possibilities and someone reads or sees something and it strikes a chord."
He said when you're talking nearly 40 residents and their families, the employees and the economic impact, for a town Crandon's size, "this is very difficult."
"Had it been three months ago, six months ago, you know, tell us where you're at," Ferris said of the nursing home's ownership. "People go to work, you know, in a community like this, to help in these situations. The impact is just too significant to even quantify. It's a very, very tiny window we have in order to get something done and salvage this."
Friday, Dennis Rosa, Crandon's mayor, said there was a meeting and Ferris is the person who's "going with it now."
"I don't know," he said. "It seems the owner of the nursing home isn't cooperating very well. It actually looks like he's planned on filing bankruptcy for quite awhile. He kind of just sprung it on everybody all of a sudden and didn't give anyone a chance to do anything to stop it. I don't know if it gets so far, if it's hopeless or not."
Rosa said it isn't like a restaurant that closes down.
"You can open up the next day and have all your customers back," he said.
Todd Greeneway, the nursing home's interim director, told The Lakeland Times Friday that before the facility could be closed, a plan for closure had to be submitted by AGI Healthcare to the state, which was accepted the week of April 5.
"The Wisconsin Division of Quality Assurance gives you a 90 day plan to re-locate residents," he said. "They sent a closure team to help support the nursing home and we meet with them weekly to talk about each resident and what their plan is for relocation and support."
Greeneway stressed no resident will ever get evicted.
"The facility will not shut down until every single resident is safely placed in a new location," he said.
As of Friday, he said there were still 26 residents at the Crandon facility.
By this Friday, he expected that number would be 21.
"Many of them have been relocated to area nursing homes such as Friendly Village in Rhinelander," Greeneway said. "Most of them have been re-located to Nu-Roc in Laona."
He said AGI has been working with the county and the city on possible purchasers for the nursing home but so far, "we haven't had any offers at this point."
"We have about 50 employees that are also working on relocation to these other nursing homes," he said. "These other nursing homes are offering jobs to many of our staff."
Greeneway said he's also had Wisconsin Job Service involved to provide resources and support for other employees.
"They have a dislocated worker program," he said. "They're coming every Thursday to educate our staff on new positions, either in nursing homes or at other places. They're providing education resources for those who want to go back to school."
Greeneway said the shock to the community may have its roots in the fact that while the closure plan was being considered by the Wisconsin Division of Quality Assurance, by regulation, no information can be released until that plan is approved.
In larger, more populated areas, such as Milwaukee, he said that type of news is easier to keep in-house and under control.
"In a small community, like Crandon, word gets out way ahead of that and that's where you lose your public relations and your grasp on the communication process," Greeneway said. "It spreads like wildfire. The next thing you know, the community's in a stir and we haven't released official communication on it. That's where the frustration lies."
He agreed with Ferris and Rosa the whole thing is a sad situation.
"The issue here is ... you've got the residents' families and the staff are all in the same community," Greeneway said. "They know each other, they care for each other. There's heartfelt respect and there's a lot of sadness. The residents here were teachers and mailmen and milkmen for these families and now these kids are caring for them. It's literally a family network and it is a painful situation for them to have to re-locate."
Brian Jopek may be reached via email at email@example.com.