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Ellsworth's Parkview Manor rated top in state

ELLSWORTH -- Three stars shy of perfection.

When one considers a perfect score as 40 stars, three stars short is still in the 90th percentile. If this were high school, the grade would be an "A".

Thus, it goes without saying the staff and residents of Parkview Manor Nursing Home in Ellsworth are mighty proud these days of their 37 stars.

Ellsworth -- a tiny town in southwest Nobles County, population 540 -- is known to some as the pride of the Panthers, the home of an award-winning meat locker, and the hometown of the nation's 2005 ROTC Cadet of the Year.

The community's latest distinction, announced Friday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, is that they are home to the highest-rated nursing home in all of Minnesota. The ratings, comprised in the Nursing Home Report Card, are part of the governor's plan to give people an accessible and adequate tool in choosing a care facility for their loved ones.

Mike Werner, Parkview Manor's administrator, learned the news Friday from a Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter. Werner was just about to leave for a weekend ice-fishing trip to northern Minnesota with his children.

"It's an honor to be the highest rank in the state," he said.

While he hopes the report card ranking will help people make an informed decision about long-term care for their loved ones, Werner is quick to point out that the information should be viewed as one of many tools. Nothing, not even the best report card in the state, can replace a personal visit to a facility, he added.

"Take a tour, talk to the administrator and/or social worker," Werner said. "Ask to talk to a resident. Residents have got nothing to lose."

As for the 37-star ranking, Werner said with a grin, "Somebody had to be the first. I'm glad it's me. Obviously, I'm biased.

"This report card could change and it will change," he added. "Could we get 37 again? Yes. Could we get 40? No, I don't think so -- not without building a new facility."

The report card offered one- through five-star rankings in eight areas ranging from quality of life for residents to staff retention and state inspection results. Parkview Manor maxed out in six of those eight areas, losing one star in hours of direct care and two stars in its proportion of single rooms.

Family philosophy

Parkview Manor opened in Ellsworth in 1970, and the city took ownership of the skilled nursing facility shortly thereafter. Today, it is considered the second-largest employer in town, with some 60 full- and part-time employees. A board of directors, comprised of Ellsworth citizens, serves as its managers.

"The municipal (ownership) is, I think, what sets us apart," Werner said. "We're owned by a lot of the people that work here.

"Besides that, everybody is related to everybody," he added somewhat jokingly. "Three former employees are living here ... the director of nursing's grandfather, the cook's mother ... the maintenance man's mother and a nurse's aide's sister."

Those relationships -- and the fact that Ellsworth is a small, close-knit community -- have helped create the family philosophy that is at the heart of care provided at Parkview Manor.

"Everyone here is like a family," said LPN Lori Johnson, a 26-year veteran of Parkview Manor. "You laugh with them, you cry with them. You're friends at work and you're friends outside of the facility."

Johnson and her co-workers work to maintain that family-friendly environment, often coming in after hours to help create a homey atmosphere. The staff has racked up volunteer hours painting inside the facility, putting up wallpaper borders and hanging pictures.

Employees donate their time and money to Christmas shop for the residents, ensuring that each person receives a gift. For Valentine's Day, each resident will receive their own bag filled with Valentine cards and treats as a special gift from the employees.

"We just take them in as our own family," said Johnson, adding that if someone needs so much as a pair of sweatpants, an employee is likely to spend his or her own money to fill the need.

Werner is quick to commend the team effort his staff provides, both on the clock and off.

"I've got good people here -- people who are experienced, people who are very caring," he added.

Struggle for survival

A year ago, Parkview Manor downsized from a 55-bed facility to a 45-bed facility. They have the option of increasing again as the number of residents warrants -- and Werner said he'd like to see the facility full.

Perhaps the report card rankings will help, but realistically speaking, Werner isn't expecting to lure the elderly from farther away to his facility.

"People aren't going to take their parents 100 miles away from where they are," he said.

In fact, in Werner's 19 years as Parkview's administrator, he's seen that happen only once. A man from Hibbing was moved into the Manor by a son who'd done his research and realized Ellsworth's facility was one of the least-cost care facilities with some of the best survey results in the state. The elderly gentleman no longer recognized his own son, and Werner was told by the son that it made no difference if he was placed in a care facility in Hibbing, Ellsworth, or anywhere else in the state.

It should be no surprise that Parkview Manor remains one of the lowest cost facilities, and the 37-star report card speaks volumes for the care offered there.

Yet, "Quality doesn't equate profitability," said Werner. And in Ellsworth, the lack of elderly in need of long-term care has had an impact.

"Ellsworth has run out of an elderly population," he said. "We've become a young, bedroom community -- which is great for the school, but not great for the nursing home."

Werner is now turning to area towns like Adrian, Luverne and Worthington to draw in residents. Perhaps the greatest barrier lies one mile south of town -- the Minnesota-Iowa state line.

Iowa residency forces people to jump through "a bunch of hoops" relating to payment issues before they can move into Parkview Manor. Essentially, Werner said Iowa residents must become Minnesota residents in order to access money to pay for their health care.

Bustling with activity

Driving through a small town like Ellsworth during the day, one is likely to find kids running on the school playground, cars parked along Main Street, and Parkview Manor bustling with activity.

Late Wednesday morning, Brenda Ewy was helping load a few residents into the Manor's van for a trip uptown for dinner, and by afternoon, she was calling numbers in a game of Bingo.

"We take them bowling, we've gone to the zoo, Sertoma Butterfly House, the buffalo farm and to the school play," Ewy said.

During the baseball season, residents are wheeled out the back door of Parkview Manor to the ball diamond to watch little leaguers, while picnics, pontoon rides and fishing trips are all a part of the summer fun.

For Christmas, residents dress in costume to perform a pageant, and in some years, local farmers have brought in animals for a drive-thru nativity.

Throughout the school year, Parkview Manor hosts students from the Ellsworth school in an "Adopt-A-Grandparent" program. Students in the sixth through 12th grade visit twice per month -- once to do a group activity, and the second for one-on-one time with a resident.

"Intergenerational programming, we've been doing that since California gave it a fancy name," Werner said. School students and 4-H'ers have interacted with residents since before he was hired as Parkview Manor's administrator.

Parkview Manor is among a growing number of nursing homes to also offer pet therapy. Sahara, a cute and cuddly Pomeranian, is in training to be the facility's resident pet. Every evening, she goes home with Ewy, her owner.

"Sahara is good for the low-cognitive residents who don't respond much to stimulation," Ewy said. "If you put a dog in their lap, they give a big ol' smile."

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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