Tofte shelves senior assisted living plans

Tofte Town Hall
Tofte Town Hall

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There was some disappointing news for Tofte Township this month and as a result, plans to build a senior assisted living facility there have been put on hold. 

The township board of supervisors has been looking into providing assisted living for seniors on the west end for nearly three years, after voters approved the idea during Tofte's annual meeting in 2008.

The township commissioned a market study last fall, funded in part by a $3,000 contribution from the Cook County-Grand Marais Joint Economic Development Authority(EDA), and matching funds from the township.  Unfortunately, the preliminary results of the study were not encouraging. 

Nancy Grabko is the EDA’s Housing Coordinator.  She’s been working with the township and consulting firm Community Partners Research on the Tofte senior assisted living study.

“Assisted living, you know, it’s three meals a day, it’s healthcare, it’s 24-7,” says Grabko. “And you need, in order to put up that type of facility, it’s very costly to build it, to operate it.  When Community Partners Research looked at all the demographics and got all of the new census data that was just released, we just found that there wasn’t a large enough percentage of seniors in the Tofte area, Tofte-Lutsen-Schroeder, that could occupy an assisted living facility.  The numbers just did not support the idea of creating it.”

And there are other factors working against the township.

“Silver Bay just opened a new 40 bed assisted living facility.  They have 30 rooms for assisted living and then 10 memory care.  So there’s a brand new facility just down the road in Silver Bay.”

That’s Paul James.  He’s chair of the Tofte town board.

“And the Cook County Hospital is reported to be looking at an assisted care facility, and if that were to move ahead there would be too many beds in the area to be able to let Tofte move ahead with their project with reassurances that there would be enough use of the building to make it financially feasible,” says James.

Operating an assisted living facility is a big undertaking.  EDA Housing Coordinator Nancy Grabko says that unlike Tofte, many communities have the need and the numbers, but not the will to enter into it.

“To Tofte’s credit, they really want their seniors to have the opportunity to stay in the community and the Tofte Township Board is doing everything possible to make that happen,” says Grabko.

Grabko says there are other ways to help seniors to either stay in their homes longer, or provide them with other housing options.

“We’re going to continue to pursue a different level of housing for the seniors in the community.  You know, we may have seniors that are having a difficult time remaining independent in their own home just because the home creates so many responsibilities, with heating it, and shoveling the snow, and mobility, trying to get to and fro, where they need to go, whether it be doctor’s appointments, or to the grocery story, or whatever.  One option that we talked about is maybe it will be like a four-plex, like a town home, four units, where all of those outdoor services would be provided with the rent.  And that we could work, maybe, a little bit closer with public health and social services in making sure that as things come up where a person starts having difficulty, that there are support services plugged in that can allow our seniors to remain as active and independent in the community as possible.”

Grabko says she will continue to work with the Tofte Town board to address senior housing needs.

“We’re not giving up.  Just because the numbers don’t support assisted living in no way means that they’re abandoning their seniors.  We just have to put the right plan together that will work.”

The Tofte Town board meets for its regular monthly meeting at 7:00 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month at Tofte Town Hall.  This year’s annual meeting is Tuesday, March 8.  For more information contact town clerk Barb Gervais at 663-7315 or by email at barbara.gervais@co.lake.mn.us.


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