OWATONNA — Family members became irate and staff members began to shed tears as the Steele County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the sale of Park Place Assisted Living and the empty Cedarview Care Center to Bradford Holdings, solidifying the eventual relocation of 50 Park Place residents.
The vote came after another public comment period during the regular county board meeting on Tuesday afternoon. More than 70 people comprised of residents, family members, nurses, Benedictine Health System staff, and Koda Board members filled the county boardroom with some in attendance spilling out into the hallways.
Park Place is managed by Koda Living Communities, a subsidy of Benedictine Health System, but the property is currently owned by the county.
The purchase agreement had been the cause of controversy between those involved in Park Place and the county. After a July study session where Brad Bass, the president of Bradford Holdings, stated his vision was to keep Park Place as an assisted living facility with updates and to demolish Cedarview, replacing it with a 27-unit senior cooperative. That plan, however, would require the relocation of the Park Place residents, and the Park Place community began expressing its concern, including during a public hearing on July 23.
Those attending Tuesday’s meeting where in hopes that a final plea to the commissioners would prevent them from following through with any purchase agreement that would require the relocation of the residents. They shared concerns over where the residents would be located, what would come of the current Park Place staff, and the traumatic impact it could have on the elderly people who would be displaced for an estimated six months.
“For some elders, especially those with cognitive impairments, changes in routine — especially having to move from one home to another or even one room to another — can result in an increase in confusion; depression; changes in health, personality, or disposition,” said Sharon Bexell, the director of nursing at Park Place, adding that it can result in weight loss, an increase in falls, and self-care deficits. “It’s called relocation stress syndrome or transfer trauma. It’s a real nursing diagnosis. The medical definition calls it a combination of medical and psychological reactions to abrupt physical transfer that may increase the risk of grave illness or even death.”
According to Bexell, residents at Park Place range from the ages of 70 to 99 years old. The residents include several prominent names in the community, including Steele County Free Fair Director Dick Reinhardt and former Minnesota State Schooler Harvey Ronglien among many other former business owners and volunteers.
“Anybody who closes Park Place doesn’t know what they’re doing,” said Ronglien, who attended Tuesday’s meeting with his daughter, Cheryl Ronglien. The audience erupted in applause following his comments.
“When we conducted a competitive process we came up with four offers,” said Ray Giannini with Marcus and Millichap, which was contracted by the county to act as the broker throughout the process of selling the two facilities. “We need $2.95 million to complete this transaction and we’ve asked [Benedictine Healthy System] to come to that value and pay that value. If they paid that today, we would more than likely go with BHS. And that doesn’t even cover the debt on the bond issue.”
Giannini continued to reiterate points that had been brought forth by both Bass and the county commissioners regarding insurance during the time of construction for the project, stating that few insurance policies would cover the demolition of Cedarview if the Park Place residents were to remain in place. He said that the process he has gone through with the county has been deliberate and has resulted in the best possible scenario.
“I just cannot understand how it’s possible to rip down a 50,000-square-foot building that’s attached to a building containing frail elderly and do that safely,” Giannini said. “We have yet to come up with anybody that really has given us the answer to that question. It’s not possible.”
Members of the public refuted the claim that Cedarview should be considered “attached” to Park Place, stating that they are only connected through a hallway and a fire wall. A representative from Owatonna Public Utilities also spoke during the meeting, asserting that the utilities for the two facilities are completely separate, including both buildings having their own transformer. Bass had stated that the discovery of shared utilities is what caused the decision to relocate the residents during the demolition project. Neither the commissioners nor the broker commented on that discovery, but it was confirmed that there is some shared plumbing between the buildings.
“I want to give the commissioners credit on going through a deliberative process on a very difficult decision,” Giannini said. “What we’re trying to do is knock that building down, beautify [Park Place], put up another building and beautify the entire campus. How can we be faulted for doing that?”
Several audience members became agitated at comments made by Giannini, specifically when he challenged them to answer how Park Place would be able to evacuate their residents if an emergency were to happen during the construction project. Cheryl Ronglien stated that the entire conversation made her blood boil.
“You guys wouldn’t have gotten into this occupation if you didn’t care about the county,” Cheryl Ronglien said to the commissioners, before turning to Giannini. “You’re a broker. I don’t like you’re attitude. If they’re selling it for $2.2 million you’re looking at a $300,000 commission, so I don’t want to hear your B.S. You don’t care.”
Giannini responded to Cheryl Ronglien that he appreciates her “spiciness,” but that he is simply trying to “give some flavor” to how this decision process was handled.
After the public was able to speak for roughly 50 minutes, Board Chair Greg Krueger closed the public comment period and asked the commissioners for their remarks. Commissioner Jim Abbe, who had missed the July 23 public hearing, expressed how this would be the hardest decision he will ever make while sitting on the county board.
“Every board inherits issues. We knew this going into it, so that’s not an excuse or cop out. It’s just a comment. Every board inherits things they’re going to have to deal with and this is one of those issues that we have to address and deal with,” Abbe said, stating that the sale of the property should have probably been handled 10 years ago and can no longer be avoided. “It’s not about the dollar. It’s the human element but we have to factor that in when we make these decisions. It will add 27 additional senior units in our community. That is desperately needed… We have to decide as commissioners what is best for the community in the long-term.”
“I had someone come to me and say I’m going to lose votes over this,” he continued. “I don’t make these decisions based on votes or the next election. You make them based on the info you have at the time and what you feel is best for the community.”
Commissioner Jim Brady pointed out the amount of money that the county has put into Park Place, stating the he believes Steele County has stuck in somewhere around $3.5 million and continues to spend money on the facilities including $500,000 during the July meeting.
“There are 35,000 other people in the county, so for me I just can’t keep going that way,” Brady said. “I’m sorry.”
Krueger read a comment from a letter sent by Bass that explained how Bradford Holdings sought out a second opinion on the construction project and that the inspection resulted in the same conclusion that the residents would have to be moved. The letter further reads that relocating the residents will not financially benefit the company and that it will solely be for the health and well-being of the individuals living in Park Place. In order to help minimize the negative impacts of relocation, Bradford Holdings is willing to provide an additional $25,000 above the purchase price for the county to provide to the existing residents to help lessen the burden of the transition. Bass also promises that every resident will be welcomed back to their same room at the same base rate and payment structure for the first year.
In the end, the commissioners unanimously agreed to approve the purchase agreement with Bradford Holdings. In a motion made by Brady, the commissioners also unanimously approved to offer BHS per capita monthly rent reduction based on empty units, an agreement to terminate the Park Place lease immediately when the last resident is moved out, and waiving the second half of the 2019 county real estate tax.
No additional timeline was given to the public about when the residents will be expected to relocate. The letter from Bass stated that the transition of residents to a new facility would need to be completed prior to the sale closing. He added that if residents were relocated prior to October that they could anticipate re-opening in spring.