From the editor: Learning lessons from Sunnyside


October 20, 2023

The recent announcement that Community Memorial Hospital will close its Sunnyside Health Care Center came as a shock. The longtime nursing home serves some of our most vulnerable elders, and got high marks for doing so in a loving and compassionate manner. Being attached to the hospital was a plus — not only did it make emergency care more accessible, services such as occupational and physical therapy were only an elevator ride away. And ice cream at the Warming House was just down the hill.

The Pine Knot News reported on Sunnyside when the care facility was hit with Covid-19, and the steps it took to keep its residents and staff safe, especially in the early days when there were no vaccines and the virus was fairly lethal.

Sunnyside staff and administrators were very open, allowing our reporters and readers to understand the challenges and heartbreaking reality of what was happening.

We’ve also reported on the many fun moments at Sunnyside, from the ice cream trips to birthday parties.

One of my top interviews ever took place in the dining room there, when Helen Olson shared her memories of the 1918 fire. She was 99, and had escaped the fire at age 7 with her two younger sisters by crossing the river. She watched the city burn from the front lawn of a house very near the current hospital.

Sunnyside was home to so many people who deserved a great place to spend their time while receiving the care they needed.

After December, it will be no more.

While we are sad, we understand the hospital had a tough call to make. For years CMH has subsidized the nursing home, which lost money annually, because it was important, said CEO Rick Breuer. But when that deficit doubled last year, something had to be done to ensure the long-term viability of the hospital itself.

Not making enough money or finding adequate staff is not just a problem at Sunnyside. It’s a systemic issue. Payments are too low for the care required — that’s a Medicaid issue — and staffing is increasingly difficult to find and afford.

“This is a critical problem across the industry,” Breuer said. “I don’t know how many facilities will have to close to get the state’s attention.”

Hopefully, as the CEO also noted, its closure will afford other local facilities with needed staff and new residents.

Thankfully, there are other long-term care facilities in Carlton County. They’ve all struggled. If you’re angry about Sunnyside going away, write your state and U.S. senators and representatives instead of venting on Facebook, and demand they work together to make real change happen.

But the news could have been worse. It could have been the hospital that was closing, or being sold to some giant nonprofit health care group.

Having a local hospital is huge, and benefits all of us. When I tore my hamstring, I went to CMH for all my care, and it was good. If they couldn’t have fixed it, they would have sent me to a place that could.

That’s another thing about independent local hospitals. They can (and do) recommend further care at places not connected to them.

Lose your local independent hospital and many times you also lose the services they offer over time, even if a new provider moves in. That’s why some women up the North Shore are driving hours to deliver a baby.

It’s hard work keeping a small hospital going these days, just like it’s tough providing long-term care. Don’t take it for granted.


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