Candas Schouvieller, CEO/Administrator
Oak Hills Living Center exists to support our family, friends and neighbors who can no longer care for themselves. The community created Highland Manor in 1958 when long term care was needed in New Ulm. In 1995, the community saw the building was in need of major repairs and rallied to rebrand and build our current home and in 2003, when the community needed income-based housing, you once again supported that mission. It has been 20 plus years since our last ask for a major contribution from the community. Our senior community is growing, and it is our obligation to meet the increased demand. For some of you, you may not know that Oak Hills Living Center is a stand-alone, non-profit long-term care and assisted living facility, that is owned by the community. Oak Hills does not have an owner, it is community owned and governed by an Operating Board of Directors comprised of community members. Our current Operating Board of Directors include Chris Jensen, Jay Vancura, Dr. Joan Krikava, Barb Dietz, Betsy Pieser, Danielle Marti, Michelle Markgraf, Judi Nelson and James Unke.
For the last six years, Oak Hills Assisted Living has been tracking referrals, admissions, and discharges. We had been noticing the studio apartments were no longer desirable to the community. Not long prior to 2015, our apartments were consistently full with a wait list. The needs of the community were changing, and we had more requests for larger living spaces and memory care. Unfortunately, our private pay apartments were all studio apartments, and we had no secure area to care for residents with memory loss. A market study confirmed our observations, however, what we didn’t anticipate was how much the need for care would be growing. By 2050, 80–84-year-olds in Brown County would increase 48% and seniors 85+ by 34%. In 2019, the State informed our industry of upcoming licensure changes to assisted living facilities going into effect August 1, 2021. Strategic Planning was well underway developing a plan on how we were going to meet the needs of our growing elderly population along with planning and preparing to meet the new licensure change for the assisted living. Then came the pandemic and we were forced to redirect our focus. We were hopeful that the State would push the deadline back due to the pandemic, however the State held fast to the licensure changes which required us to continue exploring options for renovating our assisted living and/or expanding. We forecasted different scenarios, renovating, expanding, or doing nothing. Doing nothing meant the future of Oak Hills Living Center was not guaranteed. Where would our friends and neighbors go when they could no longer care for themselves if Oak Hills Living Center ceased to exist?
We need to renovate our existing assisted living so people in our community have more options other than a 425 sq ft apartment. We need to offer additional services with those larger spaces so we can reserve our skilled nursing home beds for those with the greatest needs. Residents with memory care needs must be in a safe, secure environment where they are free to wander.
Concerns about staffing are valid. There is not an organization that is not looking for employees. When fully staffed we have approximately 275 employees at Oak Hills. Currently, we have a handful of positions open however, we do not have any temporary contracted staff working in our building. How did we do this? Our Board and Leadership developed a plan to increase wages for our direct care staff in October. The expansion will require an additional 20-25 staff. We understand that is concerning considering the number of open positions in so many places. We trust that by investing into our organization and community that we will be able to fill these additional positions. Creating interest for health care and supporting those who want to enter the field is a priority for Oak Hills. Our scholarship program pays tuition for those individuals who pursue a variety of health care careers. The individual brings us the tuition statement and we pay it directly to the college or university. We also have a program, OnTrack, which trains nursing assistants and many may not know that nursing homes are required to pay tuition for those who are being trained for their first CNA role. We are committed to developing our staff and supporting them.
At Oak Hills we care about people and believe every life has value. The expansion will cost $13 million, and we need to raise at least $2.5 million from the community. While staff and Board members may change the one constant is you. You will always own Oak Hills, it’s the community’s home. We need your support.