Oak Hills Living Center exists to support our family, friends and neighbors who can no longer take care of themselves. The community established Highland Manor in 1958 when long term care was needed in New Ulm. In 1995 the community saw that the building needed major repairs and came together to rename and build our current home and in 2003 when the community needed income based housing you again supported this mission .
More than 20 years have passed since our last request for a major community contribution. Our community of seniors is growing and it is our duty to meet the increased demand. For some of you, you may not know that Oak Hills Living Center is a community-owned, not-for-profit, independent, long-term care and assisted living facility. Oak Hills is ownerless, community owned, and governed by a board of directors made up of community members. Our current Board of Directors includes Chris Jensen, Jay Vancura, Dr. Joan Krikava, Barb Dietz, Betsy Pieser, Danielle Marti, Michelle Markgraf, Judi Nelson and James Unke.
For the past six years, Oak Hills Assisted Living has tracked referrals, admissions, and discharges. We had noticed that the studios were no longer desirable for the community. Shortly before 2015 our apartments were always full with a waiting list. The needs of the community were changing and we had more and more requests for larger living spaces and memory care. Unfortunately, our paid private apartments were all studio apartments and we did not have a secure area to care for residents with memory loss. A market study confirmed our observations; however, we did not anticipate how much the need for care would increase. By 2050, people aged 80 to 84 in Brown County would increase by 48% and people aged 85 and over by 34%.
In 2019, the state informed our industry of upcoming assisted living licensing changes that will take effect August 1, 2021. Strategic planning was in the process of developing a plan for how we would respond to the needs of our growing senior population, as well as planning and preparing to meet the new licensing change for assisted living. Then came the pandemic and we were forced to redirect our efforts. We were hoping that the state would push back the deadline because of the pandemic; however, the state has held firm to licensing changes which have required us to continue to explore options to renovate and/or expand our assisted living facility. We have planned different scenarios, renovate, expand or do 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 facility so people in our community have more options than a 425 square foot apartment. We need to offer additional services with these larger spaces so that we can reserve our qualified nursing home beds for those who need them most. Residents requiring memory care should be in a safe and secure environment where they are free to roam.
Concerns about staffing are valid. There isn’t an organization that isn’t looking for employees. When fully staffed, we have approximately 275 employees in Oak Hills. Currently we have a handful of positions open, however, we do not have temporary contract staff working in our building. How did we do this? Our Board and management have developed a plan to increase the salaries of our direct care staff in October.
The expansion will require 20 to 25 additional employees. We understand this is worrying given the number of vacancies in so many places. We are confident that by investing in our organization and our community, we will be able to fill these additional positions. Generating interest in healthcare and supporting those who want to enter the field is a priority for Oak Hills. Our scholarship program pays tuition fees for individuals pursuing a variety of healthcare careers. The person brings us the tuition statement and we pay it directly to the college or university. We also have a program, OnTrack, which trains practical nurses and many may not be aware that care homes are required to pay tuition for those being trained for their first CNA role. We are committed to developing and supporting our people.
At Oak Hills, we care about people and believe that 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 is the home of the community. We need your support.