- Associated Press - Sunday, March 6, 2016

MCCOOK, Neb. (AP) - Landowners in a southwest Nebraska county may be asked to pay higher taxes to help support a struggling nursing home in McCook.

Red Willow County officials may ask voters to support a tax increase later this year to help cover the county-owned Hillcrest Nursing Home’s deficit, the McCook Daily Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1TYkWVu ).

If voters don’t support the additional spending, the county may look at selling the nursing home.

Hillcrest administrator Colinda Nappa said the home is working to improve its financials, but it’s not clear how much of the nearly $500,000 it is owed can be collected. For instance, one resident who owes $166,000 and owns a house, but the house is only worth $29,000.

There are also delays in the Medicaid approval process that have left Hillcrest with nearly $80,000 in unpaid bills for 14 residents while officials review the level of care the home provides and what patients need.

The county already agreed last fall to help pay some of Hillcrest’s $608,000 in unpaid bills, but now it looks like they will have to raise additional money. The county is also working to refinance a five-year $1 million loan Hillcrest took out in July 2012.

County attorney Paul Wood told commissioners that the bills and debt payment are “just too much to carry. Hillcrest can’t tote both operating expenses and debt service.”

Commissioner Earl McNutt said he questions whether the county needs to be in the nursing home business, but it makes sense to ask voters whether they support the expenses.

“Does government need to be operating a nursing home?” McNutt questioned. “I don’t want it (Hillcrest) to go away, but a private owner could operate it at a profit.”

Hillcrest board member Randy Dean said the facility is doing all it can to improve its financial situation. He said that if the home were sold to a private company, the facility would likely stop admitting residents relying on Medicaid to improve profitability.

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Information from: McCook Daily Gazette, http://www.mccookgazette.com

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