St. Louis County ready to sell Chris Jensen nursing homeTwin Cities-based Health Dimensions Group would buy the Chris Jensen nursing home and 22 adjacent acres of land from St. Louis County for $2.3 million under a deal before the County Board today.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Twin Cities-based Health Dimensions Group would buy the Chris Jensen nursing home and 22 adjacent acres of land from St. Louis County for $2.3 million under a deal before the County Board today.
The board’s committee of the whole is expected to give preliminary approval to the sale to the company that has been renting and operating the county-owned nursing home since November 2009.
HDG is promising to invest more than $5 million to upgrade the 170-bed nursing home and also build a $3 million, 40-unit senior citizen retirement housing complex on adjacent vacant land just off Rice Lake Road in Duluth.
County administrators expect to have the deal closed by the end of March.
St. Louis County officials have made no secret of their ongoing but quiet negotiations with HDG in recent years; not only to buy the building but also to develop a major retirement complex. The 40-unit proposal now being considered is described by the company as more modest than one previously discussed.
David Briscoe, HDG’s principal partner, did not immediately return a request for comment from the News Tribune.
The question of the county’s role in providing local nursing home beds for its residents was once the subject of heated debate.
In 2008, the nursing home’s $1.2 million annual operating shortfall led county officials to begin negotiations with private health companies. Commissioners were split, however, with some backing continued county ownership that would keep the employees under county union labor contracts.
Privatization supporters eventually won out, and HDG took over in late 2009 under a five-year deal where the company pays the county $50,000 per year in rent. HDG also has invested some $575,000 in physical improvements to the building. The company now employs 250 employees at the nursing home, most of whom are union-represented.
In 2012, the Minnesota Legislature approved a county request for a special law that allows the county to sell the Chris Jensen building and 22 adjacent acres to HDG without the usual competitive bidding process.
Health Dimensions Group is considered a major health-care management and consulting firm serving hospitals, health systems and long-term care and senior living facilities. HDG directly manages 22 health-care properties in five states, including Chris Jensen, and provides consulting to clients in all 50 states.
If the committee of the whole approves the sale today, the deal would probably receive final board approval on Nov. 12.
“I’ve been on board with this for two years. It seems like the logical extension of what they have done at Chris Jensen,” said County Board Chairman Chris Dahlberg. “I’m just happy they came in and rescued us when they did. They have really saved taxpayers a lot of money ... and now they are planning to make a substantial private investment there. … I think they deserve the chance to do that for helping us.”
County Commissioner Frank Jewell of Duluth noted the county-HDG negotiations had been mostly off the radar until last week.
“Most of us will be seeing the details of this for the first time at (today’s) board meeting, so we’ll have to see what happens. The formal proposal just came in last week,” Jewell said.
“There is a lot of history, with some controversy, with this nursing home and over the county’s role in operating it,” he continued. “But most of that is in the past now and I think most of us probably support the concept of the sale. But we’ll have to see the details.”
The nursing home is next door to the joint public safety campus that houses the Duluth Police Department and St. Louis County Sheriff’s office, between Rice Lake Road and Arlington Avenue, not far from Arrowhead Road.