In response to rumors and false information, the Clarkfield City Council held an open meeting Tuesday night with the staff of the Care Center. While the meeting was open to any questions employees had for the council (the City of Clarkfield owns the senior care facility, but Ecumen manages it), the conversation quickly focused on the possible sale of the entity.
City Administrator Amanda Luepke began the meeting by quickly going over important financial figures. She explained how the center has lost money in four of the past six years. In the last two years alone, the Care Center was short roughly $74,000, a loss that Luepke says has mostly to do with changing demographics and market factors.
To cover this growing gap, the city has been forced to withdraw money from a special reserve fund held in escrow. The city has also forgiven about $92,000 in municipally-held debt. However, council members stressed that they had to develop an alternative long-term financial arrangement if they were going to keep the Care Center afloat. Currently, the Care Center is the biggest debt obligation for the city of Clarkfield.
One of several options entertained by the council is selling the facility. They have also discussed changes in management and cost cutting measures. For many in attendance, however, hypothetical talk of selling the facility immediately raised alarm bells.
“We’re a high quality care center,” said one woman at the meeting, “what would happen to us, our residents, and the city of Clarkfield if we left?” Another member in the audience questioned the wisdom of letting the council alone decide the future of the facility, asking, “why not send out a survey like with the old gym?” One employee (who requested not to be named) even said she received a threatening phone call telling her to “stay out of the Care Center business.”
Employees also expressed their frustration at what they see as a lack of communication between the council and the Care Center. Luepke explained that she was trying to be careful not to overstep her position, but apologized for not visiting one-on-one with the employees. While other council members also attempted to better explain their position, many in attendance simply felt that they still weren’t being heard. One employee said that all they wanted was for “you guys [council members] to at least fight for us,” adding, “this place is worth fighting for.”
Throughout the meeting, both sides struggled to find common ground, and repeatedly had to clarify facts and figures for each other. For example, Care Center employees emphasized the positive stories of working at the Center as a counter to the employee complaints heard by the council. Equally, the council stressed that they were not actively attempting to sell the facility, but were rather assessing all their options.
Despite this heat, council member Sue Fritz said towards the end that she appreciated the opportunity to hear directly from Care Center employees. Council members said they hoped to have similar meetings in the future, and thanked the employees for the opportunity to hear from the directly. It is not clear when a final decision might be made regarding the Care Center.