Photo by George Lauby
Pawnee Hotel lobby
An electrical contractor arrived June 12 at the Pawnee Assisted Living Hotel to replace a fuse panel, bringing the hotel up to state requirements, Director Sandy Schade said. The hotel received notice May 31 from the state inspector of electrical problems that needed to be fixed within 14 days, or power would be cut off.
The biggest problem was a fuse cabinet near the kitchen. Schade said other minor issues were addressed immediately.
The Pawnee hotel is home to 40 people with emotional and mental disabilities. It has a capacity of 75.
Schade said the state electrical inspector’s notice started a chain reaction that exaggerated the problems.
The state inspector was required to notify the city that if the hotel didn’t resolve the electrical problems, the city would have to shut off the power. Therefore, the city was required to notify the residents, so a worker hung notices on the doors of the 40 residents, which did little more than send them into a panic.
The daily newspaper got wind of the situation and blared “Hotel could go dark” in a headline, accentuating more negatives.
Meanwhile, the hotel staff addressed the issues as they have done before.
But Schade said the hotel continues to face challenges.
As the population has dwindled in the last year, so has the hotel’s income.
Most residents receive about $1,100 a month from Medicaid, which pays the hotel for room, board and basic medical needs and leaves residents with about $50 a month in spending money.
The assisted living operation has seldom if ever been profitable. In 2011, its tax report showed a 3.8 percent loss, and Schade said the situation has not improved since.
The financial struggles became obvious last summer when paychecks were chronically late. At about the same time, Health and Human Services inspectors found sanitation and maintenance problems throughout the operation. The state inspectors noted that the problems did not endanger the health or safety of the residents, but several residents left and the dwindling staff struggled.
Inspectors returned for periodic inspections throughout the summer and in August, found some medications were improperly administered, some carpets were still torn and dirty, and there were bugs in an upstairs hallway.
The HHS officially revoked the assisted living operating license in October, pending an appeal.
In December, the 83-year-old boilers quit working and the staff scrambled to set up temporary heaters.
During a 45-day period from late November to early January, another 20 residents or so moved out.
But Schade and the staff endured. They set up heaters and openly discussed the issues they faced. In March, the HHS reinstated the hotel’s license to provide assisted living care. A hearing officer found no further deficiencies and said the staff had made a good faith effort to improve.
For several months, the hotel could not accept new residents, but for the first time in 10 months, in May it was allowed to accept a handful of residents.
Schade said they have received earnest inquiries from about 25 interested residents and their families. The hotel provides single rooms – something rare in mental health care, making it a good fit for many would-be residents.
But Schade is proceeding slowly. She believes the operation is improving in modest ways, but the condition of the 83-year-old hotel is a problem. The concrete floors and walls are sound, but utilities are on the verge of wearing out.
Schade said there are promising financial and operational developments that are being explored and accomplished, but she did not elaborate.
This report was first published in the June 12 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin. For more recent news about the Pawnee, see the June 19 Bulletin.