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Small community fights trend of closing facilities for elderly

OSNABROCK, N.D. -- When the Good Samaritan Society closed its nursing home in this tiny Cavalier County community last fall, residents rallied and raised money to purchase, remodel and reopen the local institution.

OSNABROCK, N.D. -- When the Good Samaritan Society closed its nursing home in this tiny Cavalier County community last fall, residents rallied and raised money to purchase, remodel and reopen the local institution.

Osnabrock Community Living Center will host a grand opening and open house from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday.

"It is nothing short of a miracle that they have pulled this together, to say we want to serve our community, that we will make the commitment necessary to make this happen," said Shelly Peterson, president of the North Dakota Long-Term Care Association.

Osnabrock is one of five nursing homes in North Dakota that closed in the past year and the only one that has reopened, she said.

Migration out of small towns and a shortage of workers have made it difficult for many towns to keep such facilities open. Others that closed are located in Carrington, Underwood, Elgin and Williston.


Osnabrock, with a population of 132 and located 12 miles from Langdon, N.D., and about 100 miles northwest of Grand Forks, is the smallest of those that lost nursing homes in the past year.

Osnabrock's experience is not unprecedented, however.

After a Good Samaritan Society nursing home in New Town, N.D., closed about a decade ago, a community group reopened it as a small, basic-car/assisted-living facility.

In the mid-1990s, Aneta, N.D., was faced with a similar fate. In response, a local nonprofit corporation was organized and bought the facility. Today, Aneta Parkview Health Center is a skilled-care facility with 39 beds, including a 14-bed specialized Alzheimer's Unit.

Just a few days ago, the community broke ground on a $2 million expansion and renovation project that will convert all but one of the facility's semi-private rooms into private rooms and make other improvements.

Aneta, in southern Nelson County, is located about 60 miles southwest of Grand Forks.

Overcoming obstacles

Nursing homes face two major challenges in North Dakota: population redistribution and staffing, according to Peterson. And smaller communities are particularly vulnerable.


As the population ages, older residents move from farms and small towns to larger cities, where health care and other services are more readily available, she said.

It also is becoming more difficult for communities and facilities to find health care workers.

More than one-third of North Dakota's nearly 15,000 long-term caregivers are 50 or older, with the workforce ranging in age from 14 to 100, according to Peterson.

"We have an aging workforce," she said. "We're running out of younger people."

The state will need another 1,800 long-term caregivers by 2018, she said.

The Williston facility that closed could not keep staff to serve its residents, she said. It was flying nurses and other caregivers to the community to fill the staffing gaps, something that became financially prohibitive.

"That's why it's significant that Osnabrock has been able to accomplish this," she said. "That generally does not happen because it's such a financial undertaking."

Community commitment


Osnabrock Community Living Center is owned by the city of Osnabrock and operated by a new local nonprofit organization.

"It really hit the community hard when it closed," said Coral Fleming, the new administrator. A licensed practical nurse, she was the facility's charge nurse before it closed.

The basic-care facility, which is licensed for 15 beds, started admitting residents June 17. So far, the resident population is six.

"We're way ahead of our goal," said Kenneth Nelson, a Langdon resident who serves as board chairman. "We're positive we'll be full."

The old facility had been licensed for 31 beds, but the resident population had dropped over the years. By May 2012, when Good Samaritan announced the closing, it had 18 residents and 30 to 35 employees. When it closed last September, it had 15 residents.

"It took about two days after the announcement," Nelson said, "and we decided we needed to do something here to keep this facility open."

Nelson's grandmother and both parents lived at the home in their latter years.

"The main thing is the community was so involved," said Peggy Balsdon, a board member from Osnabrock whose mother is a current resident. "I don't mean just Osnabrock. We're talking the surrounding communities."


About 70 people attended the first meeting last summer.

After several subsequent meetings and fundraising events -- one pancake breakfast brought in $26,000 -- the new nonprofit organization pulled it all together.

They pooled more than $100,000 in donations, plus financial commitments from three area banks: Farmers and Merchants State Bank and Choice Financial in Langdon and First State Bank of Munich, N.D.

Other support has come from the Barley Bin Café and other area businesses.

The group also obtained $40,000 through the North Dakota Certified Development Corporation for a new sprinkler system for the building.

Volunteers spent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours remodeling the facility.

"We don't owe anybody a dime," Nelson said.

Paul Liebersbach, mayor of nearby Nekoma, N.D., a board member and carpenter, served as project manager and lead carpenter.


"It was a good place to spend the winter," he said.

Small and homey

Osnabrock is not the smallest basic care facility in North Dakota. In fact, 16 of them are licensed for fewer beds, according to the long-term care association.

And it's not the smallest community with such a facility. Mountain, N.D., in neighboring Pembina County, has just 92 residents, according to the 2010 Census. But the local Borg Memorial Home is licensed for 43 beds.

The Osnabrock Community Living Center employs six, but that number is likely to increase to perhaps eight or 10 as the resident population grows.

Staff members are classified as universal workers, according to Fleming, the center's administrator. The facility currently has three nurses and one nurse consultant. But everybody chips in, from serving meals to cleaning rooms.

Besides tending to care-giving needs, staff members also eat with residents in a family-style setting. Virtually every meal is homemade, including pies, cookies and other baked goods.

"It's home, with some oversight," Fleming said. "It's nice to be able to stay in the community."


Leslie and Doris Rourke are two of the residents.

Their new home is a one-bedroom apartment, with a living room and bathroom. They didn't have to move far. Their old home was right across the street -- Rainbow Avenue, in a community that sometimes bills itself as the "land of Oz".

"We like it," Leslie Rourke said of their new home. "We're well satisfied."

Call Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1110; or send email to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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