A formal hearing was held Wednesday by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to consider the operating license for the Pawnee Assisted Living Hotel.
The downtown historic hotel was cited for deficiencies in operation and placed on probation. Its license as an assisted living facility was revoked in October, pending the outcome of this hearing.
Troubles clearly surfaced at the hotel during the summer, when HHS cited the Pawnee for a range of deficiencies, from cleanliness to medication administration.
Cold weather brought more difficulty. The hotel’s 93-year-old boiler quit Dec. 19. The staff made-do with temporary heaters, but several residents left. There are less than 40 residents in the hotel now. The capacity is 75.
The hotel has until Feb. 6 to submit additional information to the hearing officer, HHS spokeswoman Marla Augustine told the Bulletin Wednesday. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joann Schaefer will review the information and is expected to make a decision within 2-3 weeks.
In early January, Schade called an emergency meeting and asked the community to help.
“We can’t sustain this building without help,” she said. “It is an albatross around my neck. We can’t do it alone.”
About 30 people – civic leaders, counselors, mental health care advocates and residents – listened. City Administrator Jim Hawks met later with Schade to look at the hotel’s financial situation. The Pawnee’s 2011 tax form showed the hotel suffered a 3.8 percent loss that year – losing $38,000 on a $1 million business.
Schade said the financial situation has not improved since then.
“This year won’t be better,” Schade told the Bulletin. “We’ve had too many troubles.”
The assisted living hotel is home to people with emotional and behavioral disabilities, most of whom are supported by Medicaid, which provides each one with about $1,100 a month. Each resident has a private room and bath in a small but sturdy hotel room, a rare environment for those supported by Medicaid. Many residents, guardians and staff say it provides an unmatchable environment for the emotionally disabled.
“I have a resident who had no success anywhere else in the state but here,” said guardian Dorothy Rice at the meeting. “This is one of the better places.”
“Having our own rooms with a bathroom is very important to us,” said Mary Books-Mills, a former Pawnee resident who is now living on her own. “That much privacy is a big deal to a person (mental health patient) who has no emotional privacy.”
Schade says her heart is with the residents but she has lost her love for the building. She would like to find another place for the operation.
Still, Schade said the building has value.
“No one wants to see it abandoned and deteriorate,” she said. “It even has value for what we’re doing. You can put a lot of people in here without rubbing elbows.”
Schade said people with family members in the hotel donated a total of $1,300 to help out, on top of other smaller-but-significant contributions.
A handful of major donors have expressed interest in saving the building.
If the hotel loses its assisted living license, it could still operate as an independent living center, which does not require a license, but could not provide health-related services, Augustine said.