Who Killed Northome?
“Northome, Minnesota” is my response when people ask where I am from. Actually I grew up seven miles from Northome (population about 350 back then). The village was the center of my world until I graduated high school and moved to Minneapolis. Like many others I couldn’t wait to get on with my life and that definitely wasn’t going to happen in the far north woods.
Over the years I’ve been back often, first to visit family, even to live briefly and work at the Northome Healthcare Center (nursing home) where my mother was a resident for several years. Which brings me to the reason for this piece. I just found out that the nursing home has closed which, I imagine, effectively puts an end to this once thriving small town. The nursing home and the school have been the only employers of note for many years. With the population now at around 200, it is hard to imagine how the hardware store, grocery store, or gas station can remain open and surely the post office must be destined to go.
My brother phoned with the news which for some reason makes both of us very sad. Then I posted my friend, Barb, who used to work at the nursing home to ask if she knew why. Money of course, the Tealwood Corporation no longer found it profitable. Barb said she bet there would have been enough income for us to run it! Unfortunately I am closer to living in a nursing home than working in one so I’ll have to pass on that idea. There were only 20 some residents—now they’re scattered throughout the area instead of in their familiar home setting. Indeed profits probably wouldn’t have been high with only 20 people paying the bills. However a Medicaid bed brings in an average of $200 a day I believe and nursing home employees in rural communities aren’t paid very well so I did a very conservative estimate of the revenue flow. Even at $150 per day X 30 days that is $4,500 per month X 20 residents which equals $90,000 per month. I do believe that an organization not interested in profits for owners/shareholders but simply in the well-being of 20 frail elders could take very good care of them for $90,000 per month. Just think if it had been big enough Mitt Romney could have bought it and shut it down—but Tealwood did just fine all by themselves.
A note. I worked for Tealwood when they first bought the nursing home and their intentions were pure, relatively anyway. They were three or four people who had left another giant and completely profit-driven corporation and they wanted to own and operate small nursing homes in Minnesota that offered quality homelike care. My job was in support of that concept. I did all sorts of small studies and looked for ways to make the environment more responsive to the occupants; I created newsletters full of resident profiles—which were then sometimes used for obituaries; I wrote articles for The Northome Record (which naturally no longer exists); and I hung out in my mom’s room. One of the owners called me their ‘annoying conscience’ and supported what I was doing but I can’t seem to remember any major breakthroughs because of my efforts! It was a great job now that I think of it. Meanwhile of course the caregivers who actually made the difference in the life of the residents were very poorly paid and generally accorded little attention or respect. What an interesting world it would be if the more you directly affected people’s lives for the good the MORE you were paid—just think an international bond trader would be living on minimum wage and caregivers and teachers would be very very wealthy. But I digress.
So. The Northome nursing home is no more. Another nail in the coffin of small town America. I suppose there’s another way to look at it. Those small towns are just great places to drive through—especially the living ones although already deceased villages can be quite picturesque—but you really really wouldn’t want to live there. Except in my memory…
Existential observation: A good day. Some writing (not enough), a little blog research, two episodes of season two of Downton Abbey and abs class. I think I’ll write more about Northome this week and then, in May/June I will be there—to bring you all up to date. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong and three small factories will be up and running and there’ll be a Starbucks on Main Street. Maybe not.