May 26—MOTT, N.D. — The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, which is owned by Sanford Health, announced Tuesday in a letter to staff, families and residents that they will be closing their nursing home in Mott — the only senior living facility in the rural southwest community.
In a statement to The Press, Sanford Health Spokeswoman Tess Hendrick claims the decision to close the facility comes as a result of the 2020 pandemic and ongoing staffing challenges.
"The pandemic has put unprecedented stress on the senior care industry, which has forced us to make difficult decisions about how and where we can provide care and services," Good Samaritan Society Executive Director Phil Samuelson stated. "A number of factors including ongoing staffing challenges, a decline in the number of residents at our location and increased operating costs have unfortunately led to a situation that is not sustainable."
The City of Mott issued a statement Thursday, explaining that they formed a group of community leaders to come up with a plan to continue providing senior care while employing local staff members. The city was encouraged to submit a proposal of that plan to Sanford Health, which reassured them efforts would be made to continue senior care in the area.
"Later that afternoon, the Regional Executive Director for N.D. and S.D., Philip Samuelson, notified Mayor Troy Mosbrucker that Sanford would be moving ahead with the closure on July 22, and putting the building up for sale with a stipulation that it can't be used for rendering health care services of any kind moving forward," Mosbrucker and Mott City Auditor Pam Steinke said in a joint statement. "This response is extremely disheartening and devastating to the community of Mott, however, we remain dedicated to pursuing and exploring additional options through our legal counsel."
When pressed about the City of Mott's claim regarding restrictions on future usage of the facility, post sale, Hedrick confirmed its accuracy and provided a statement via email to The Dickinson Press.
"Restrictions on the future use of a property are put in place in situations like this one when long-term care facilities face ongoing challenges such as difficulty hiring staff and increased operating costs. Our expertise and experience indicate that long-term care operations in Mott are not sustainable and that we have a responsibility to our residents to find them the care they need both now and into the future," Samuelson stated.
Despite claims of fiscal struggles, the Fargo Forum
in March that the health giant's chief patron, Denny Sanford, donated $300 million to Sanford Health in order to "transform rural health care delivery for generations."
"The $300 million gift from the billionaire credit card mogul and philanthropist to the Sioux Falls, SD-based health system named for him will fund expansion of medical education, the Sanford Sports Complex in Sioux Falls and create a 'state-of-the-art virtual hospital,'" Fugleberg wrote at the time.
State Senator Don Schaible, R-Mott, said he's appalled at this development, criticizing Sanford for only providing 60 days notice of closure and explicitly preventing the City of Mott from making arrangements to continue providing senior care at the existing facility after Sanford leaves town.
"The 60 days was really questionable. That attitude of no concern for the community, for the residents and families; or adverse effects of this closure not only on the families, but also on regional businesses in the area and community is really disheartening," Schaible said. "I mean, I understand business, but it seems to me that you would at least give the community a chance to salvage something out of the situation, instead of just completely turning your back on them."
He also expressed sympathy for family members of the seniors who are scrambling to figure out what to do next, as the nearest facility is more than 45 miles away in neighboring Hettinger, N.D. However, that facility only has room for 11 residents, leaving 20 in a precarious care situation.
"I can't relay enough the frustration. My mom was sitting there (at Good Samaritan) for 13 years. She passed away a year ago and I can't imagine what that would be like if she was still there," he said, adding that he knows most of these residents personally. "The way they do business and the way they treat communities is really shameful."
A former Mott Good Samaritan CNA who worked at the facility for over 10 years, said they noticed immediate changes after Sanford took over the facility in 2019 — including swift cuts to funding, including cleanliness issues following the cuts to housekeeping staff.
Sanford, who bills itself as "the largest rural health care system in America," and is headquartered in Sioux Falls, has 47 medical centers, 2,800 Sanford physicians and advanced practice providers, 170 clinical investigators and research scientists, more than 200 Good Samaritan Society senior care locations and world clinics in eight countries around the globe.
Mott is a remote, small community with 685 residents according to the 2020 U.S. Census data. Commercial Bank of Mott President Charlotte Adlinger explained that this nursing home is an essential driver of the city's local economy, and that most small businesses in Mott depend on it both directly and indirectly.
Adlinger was part of a group of community leaders trying to save the nursing home and says she's heartbroken by the situation.
"This is devastating for our community. It's going to hurt the businesses. We have a clinic, we have a pharmacy, even down to the hardware store and the grocery store. It's going to take a toll on the families, both families of loved ones as well as families of the staff and employees," she said. "In a community this size, your neighbor is your family. So it's hard to see what these families are going through."
Mosbrucker said his wife Lisa has worked at Good Samaritan for 38 years and that he and many others in the community feel betrayed by Sanford. He said that in 1974, a local farmer named Clide Swindler donated the land upon which this facility was built and noted that it was done because Good Samaritan was a nonprofit that residents have been supporting for decades.
"The residents of Mott put up 60% of the money to build it. That was the agreement made with Good Samaritan before they came to Mott," he said. "People put their heart in, people still donate to this nursing home. To me, that's a slap in the face for everything Mott did, to come in and say, 'You have 60 days, then you're done.' People need to know Sanford owns this."
The Good Samaritan Society is a nonprofit health care organization that was purchased in 2019 by Sanford Health.
"They're not acting like a non-profit. This is all about money. It's all about beds," Mosbrucker said, explaining that the state of North Dakota has a limited number of nursing home beds. "So if they were to build a new nursing home, they'd have to find the beds for it. And the easiest way is to close down another nursing home and you have the beds you can take with you to your new one. To me, I think that's what's going on. I mean, they won't come down and admit to us that's what they're doing. But I'll bet you'll see a new nursing home go up in Fargo... or someplace... that's where these beds will get transferred to."
Mosbrucker echoed Adlinger's economic concerns, pointing out that prescriptions for the 31 elderly residents are a massive portion of business for the Mott Drug Store. He also said he's not sure the Hettinger based West River Health Services Clinic in Mott will be able to stay open without the elderly patients residing at the soon to be closed facility.
In an emotional conversation, Mosbrucker said that despite the bleakness of the situation, he's not giving up.
"We've got some different ideas we're looking at and we've got some positive things that are going to happen, hopefully," he said. "We're still going to try and salvage it. We're not giving up yet."
He also noted that he has no animosity toward Samuelson.
"In Phil's defense he's doing what the upper brass is telling him. You know, he's just the messenger," Mosbrucker said.