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Editorial: Nursing home needs a lifeline

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There are a few things, almost non-negotiables, that make Ely what it is and a viable place to live and work.

One of those undoubtedly is a public school system. The school serves as a hub in Ely and in many small towns across the state and nation.

Recent investments have helped to secure the future of our school and there’s little doubt that Ely needs a healthy school in order to be a healthy community.

Quality medical care also is at the top of that list and we’re fortunate to have both a clinic and hospital, and very capable and dedicated staff, right here in Ely.

We can’t imagine Ely without a school or its medical services, and take either out of the equation and all of a sudden this community is far less attractive to anyone considering moving to - or even staying - here.

Emergency services such as police, fire and ambulance are other must-haves, and the recent financial struggles of the ambulance service have shined the spotlight on how important it is that someone is there to respond when the worst occurs.

Obviously employment is yet another key piece to the puzzle and despite an ongoing labor crunch, there’s no doubt that the community needs more viable full-time employment - the type of jobs that make people want to stay and work and raise their families here.

That’s an ongoing crusade in the local economic development world, and we’re pleased to see that officials have recognized that more affordable housing, and additional childcare options, are necessary for economic development to happen.

An announcement this week, however, highlights another community pillar - one that also plays a role in making Ely what it is.

That’s our nursing home.

Boundary Waters Care Center is appealing to the public for financial help after falling on difficult financial times the last two-plus years.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the facility has been hit with a double-whammy of sorts: both a decline in occupancy as well as difficulties in attracting and keeping staff.

Occupancy, while still averaging around 30, is healthy but below break-even levels while BWCC has had to pay more for help by utilizing agencies to bring in temporary staff - both nurses and nursing assistants.

The end result is what has been termed as “significant” financial losses that threaten the future of the facility. No business can lose money month after month to no end, and the nursing home is no exception.

The importance of the facility is obvious.

For some of our family members, friends and neighbors, the nursing home is the final stop on a long journey. It provides compassionate, professional and badly-needed care to those who can no longer fully care for themselves.

And it’s right here in town. BWCC is the only professionally skilled facility within 50 miles.

Our elderly need and deserve a facility in Ely. Not to mention family members who would otherwise be forced to drive an hour or more each way just to connect with a loved one.

The nursing home also serves another valuable purpose - that of a temporary respite for those recovering from surgery who may not be able to care for themselves or have others care for them at home. Again, a place in Ely is much better than going to Aurora, Virginia or Cook.

We applaud BWCC for its recent effort to reach out the Ely and community - and beyond - for financial help.

The nursing home is a non-profit organization and private support by way of a funding campaign is a logical piece of its funding puzzle.

While we urge those who are able to support the BWCC in its current campaign, private support shouldn’t be the only avenue for new funding for Ely’s nursing home.

We look back to remarks often repeated by now retired State Sen. Tom Bakk, who made note of the plight of nursing homes around Minnesota and suggested that the state do more to prop them up.

Now, with a $17 billion budget surplus, is an opportune time for lawmakers to come up with a program or formula that brings more state funds to nursing homes in Ely and elsewhere. It’s certainly an appropriate and sound use of public resources.

Public support should help community assets and there’s no doubt that the nursing home is that.

Like the school and the clinic, the hospital and viable employment, the nursing home is one of those pillars that makes Ely a great place to call home. Let’s do what we can to make sure the facility survives, and thrives, well into the future.

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