La Crosse nursing home will soon provide care to people of all walks of life and ages - TAI News
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La Crosse, W.I. skyline. (Charli Lopez / Flickr)

Like many places around the state, La Crosse County has been struggling with a shortage of quality child care, an increase in residents experiencing homelessness, and fewer resources for caregivers.

The county now hopes to address all of these issues under one roof with a reimagining of its Hillview Health Care Center, a nursing home in La Crosse. With the help of federal dollars, the county plans to expand Hillview with an intergenerational day center that will care for both adults with dementia and children and will provide transitional housing for people experiencing homelessness.

“By doing this project, what we’re doing is highlighting all of these areas as being great community needs. They also are showing our community that we’re all part of the solution, that we’re not a stand-alone system, whether or not we’re working with elders, working with children, working with people who are at risk of being unsheltered. These are not isolated groups of people; these are communities,” said Wanda Plachecki, executive director of La Crosse County long-term care and assisted living.

The project will cost nearly $20 million, and about $12 million of that will be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. The county has also recently received an additional $1 million for the project in the latest federal government spending package passed earlier in March.

“No one knows better what their community needs than those working everyday to make it better,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who helped secure the funding for Wisconsin. “As La Crosse County works to confront challenges like affordable housing and access to child care, I was proud to deliver for them resources to help put a roof over people’s heads, expand affordable child care, and support our veterans — benefiting the community for years to come.”

The intergenerational care center will address a lack of child care in the community and give support to community members with dementia and caregivers, according to Carissa Pagel-Smith, the director of the county’s Aging and Disability Resource Center of La Crosse.

The facility is likely one of the first of its kind in the La Crosse area, county officials said, and will be a space where children can receive day care and where caregivers can take adults with dementia to spend time during the day.

The day center will be housed in Hillview’s former cafeteria and will have an open-floor concept, with a smaller side room. It will look like a traditional day care center, with dividers between classrooms. The adults will have a home base and be able to move throughout the building and interact and engage with the children and their activities.

“So you might see an older adult sitting in a rocking chair in one of the classrooms,” Pagel-Smith said. She envisions the adults and children at a table doing arts and crafts or reading together, gardening outside, or walking around the outdoor play area while the kids play. They’ve also talked about having a window into the infant napping area so that the older adults can view them.

This integrated social interaction will benefit both the children and the adults, Pagel-Smith said. Children will get exposure to older adults and different types of people and be mentored by the adults. It will also help build empathy, understanding and social acceptance in the kids.

Studies say that more social interaction for adults, especially with children, helps them continue to contribute to a community while keeping their minds active and combating social isolation.

“Just having that sensitivity and ability to relate and understand one another … for the older adults specifically, though, it is proven to slow down the progression of [dementia],” Pagel-Smith said.

It also provides respite for those who are caring for people with dementia, she said, allowing them to run errands, go to a doctor’s appointment, or just take a break, and “not necessarily forget about themselves,” Pagel-Smith said.

The county will also add 10 units of bridge housing at Hillview, a type of temporary housing that’s meant to help people transition out of homelessness.

La Crosse has struggled in recent years with a rising number of residents experiencing homelessness. The city and county have recently set out to effectively end homelessness in the community by 2029, and long-term solutions such as adding more bridge housing are part of meeting that goal.

The bridge housing at Hillview is likely to prioritize veterans in the community experiencing housing insecurity, Plachecki said. But how the bridge housing will operate is still being determined.

The county is looking to contract with a provider to run the intergenerational day center, and is still deciding if it will do the same for the bridge housing project.

Housing all of these services under one roof serves multiple purposes, Plachecki said. For one, it’s practical: Hillview already has staff for maintenance, cleaning and the kitchen, making it easier for organizations that maybe couldn’t afford those expenses in their own brick and mortar location.

But it’s also a tangible way to show the community that there can be an all-in approach to finding solutions to these social problems.

Plachecki said she’s heard criticism from people who say the Hillview project is not going to meet all of the community’s needs.

“That’s true. We’re not. But we are a part of that solution,” she said. “I look at this as being a good example of how we can work together, but it also opens the door for more opportunity and more ability to work together with maybe other community partners to do even bigger things into the future.”

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