Levy defeat sends county scrambling to cut budget for Riverview Healthcare Campus

OAK HARBOR Little more than a week ago, a levy to support Ottawa County's senior care facility seeme
Sarah Weber
May 24, 2010



Little more than a week ago, a levy to support Ottawa County's senior care facility seemed all but a done deal.

County officials said they were positiveresidents would approve the .5 millreplacement and .25 mill increase.

But as votes were tallied under the fluorescent lights of the board of elections office late Nov. 4,it became clear everyone had been wrong.

The levy they took for granted -- one that would support unique programs and a highstandard of care for county seniors -- failed 10,828 votes to 11,031.

"The initial shock was hard to take," saidRiverview Healthcare Campus administrator Kendra German.

"Nobody here had expected that."

The levy failed by little more than 200 votes, but more than 1,000 Ottawa County residents left their ballots blank on the issue.

Now, the Ottawa County Commissioners, who placed the levy on the ballot, are drawing a blank themselves.

Was it the levy's placement as the last issue on the ballot? Perhaps a lack of publicity? Or was it the wording?

Commissioner Steve Arndt said in the poor economy, perhaps voters felt they had to choose between supporting the schools and contributing to the facility.

Or maybe Ottawa County residents didn't realize how their tax dollars would be spent.

A healing place

Most people know Riverview Healthcare Campus is a care home for seniors. But German said it is so much more.

The care facility houses several unique programs that aren't available anywhere else in the county. One is the rehabilitation clinic, where seniors work to recover from illness.

Like most rehabilitation centers, the clinic helps seniors regain strength and mobility. But it also helps them prepare to return home. The center features a bedroom setup where seniors can practice getting in and out of bed, a kitchen for preparing meals, a car they can practice getting in and out of and even a small grocery aisle.

"They go home with everything you need to do to live," German said.

The clinic has a separate entrance for outpatient clients so they can easily enter the facility. Inpatient clients usually stay at Riverview for 30 days.

Hayes Webb, an Elmore resident and rehabilitation inpatient for the fourth time, said he likes the fact that the clinic is so close to home.

"I'm here to get strong again," he said as he waited to get a haircut in Riverview's on-site beauty and barber shop.

When he lost his left leg, he said his stint in rehabilitation made him stronger than he was before the amputation.

"They give me a good workout," he said. "We've been very happy, my wife and I both."

Webb is one of more than 160 seniors who have been able to return home because of their stay at the rehabilitation center.

A home

For about 120 seniors who are no longer able to live on their own, the bright hallways, cozy lounges, and single and shared rooms of Riverview are home.

Leslie "Duke" Canter has lived there for three years.

He's stayed at a number of care homes over the years, but he said Riverview tops the list.

"It's the best home I've been in," he said.

Canter said he doesn't think the community knows the level of care residents get at Riverview. Seniors there participate in activities and social events he said, and the home is clean and well maintained.

"It's not our wish to be here, but we have to be here," the former Port Clinton resident said. "I wouldn't trade this home for anything else."

German said she and her staff try to make the facility as close to home as possible.

A struggle ahead

After years of building Riverview's program offerings and a reputation for excellent care, German was hopeful a .25 mill levy increase -- adding about $500,000 to the budget -- would ease the cost of caring for about 60 residents on Medicaid. Riverview spends about $220 daily to care for each resident; however, Medicaid reimburses the facility only $160 each day.

That leaves the facility to pick up the remaining tab of about $3,600 daily.

And because the .25 mill increase was coupled with a .5 mill renewal of levy money already going to the facility, Riverview is now facing a $700,000 to 750,000 deficit. The levy would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $22 per year.

Staff and programs, including the adult day care service, rehabilitation unit, memory care, and community programs, will all be scrutinized as German and the commissioners try to reduce costs.

"I'm gathering some ideas from the staff, asking them to look for some simple ways to cut back," German said. "Even as simple as turning off the lights when they aren't in a room."

She and the commissioners say they plan to do everything they can to get a levy for Riverview approved next year, but that still means the care home will have a very tough 2009.

"One concern people had is the potential for layoffs, and I can't promise that won't happen," county administrator Jere Witt said. "It's going to be a tough year all the way around for everybody."

Commission president James Sass said the commissioners need to sit down with Riverview staff to decide what will happen.

"It can't be an emotional decision," Sass said.

He said commissioners would do everything they can to keep Riverview functioning in the coming year, but one unfortunate reality remains.

"You can't maintain the same level of care without the levy," he said.

Election Results for Riverview Healthcare Campus levy:

PORT CLINTON -- For: 1,439 Against: 1,301 No Vote: 176

ALLEN TWP. -- For: 890 Against: 1,128 No Vote: 109

BAY TWP. -- For: 303 Against: 404 No Vote: 33

BENTON TWP. -- For: 649 Against: 753 No Vote: 45

CARROLL TWP. -- For: 517 Against: 621 No Vote: 44

CATAWBA ISLAND -- For: 1,188 Against:1,004 No Vote: 142

CLAY TWP. -- For: 1,203 Against:1,389 No Vote: 124

DANBURY TWP. -- For: 1,462 Against: 1,306 No Vote: 189

ERIE TWP. -- For: 266 Against: 272 No Vote: 20

HARRIS TWP. -- For: 937 Against: 781 No Vote: 58

PORTAGE TWP. -- For: 306 Against: 360 No Vote: 34

PUT-IN-BAY TWP. -- For: 239 Against: 295 No Vote: 7

SALEM TWP. -- For: 1,429 Against: 1,417 No Vote: 108

TOTAL -- For: 10,828 Against: 11,031 No Vote: 1,089