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County to close WCI

Workshop for disabled shutting down

By Robert Cloud

Waupaca County Industries (WCI), a facility in Manawa that has provided a sheltered workplace for disabled adults since 1989, will shut down at the end of December.

Chuck Price is director of the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which operates WCI. He spoke to the county board at a special meeting Monday, Dec. 4.

Price said the state has shifted the responsibility for long-term care of disabled adults from the county DHHS to private organizations.

The county’s current role is as a service provider for Community Care Inc., a private, nonprofit that has been responsible for area long-term care since 2010.

Community Care “has full responsibility for the safety, care and service of the members being served at WCI,” Price said.

He noted Community Care was unwilling to pay higher rates to cover costs for WCI’s services. So earlier this year, when Community Care sent out its request for proposed services, the county DHHS did not reply.

In October, Community Care and Valley Packaging, Inc. (VPI) in Appleton began working together to possibly take over the operations at WCI, Price said.

After a month of due-diligence research, VPI proposed the county allow VPI to lease WCI’s property, building and assets at no charge for three to five years. VPI also offered to invest $200,000 in upgrades to the facility.

On Nov. 15, the county’s Public Property Committee voted to reject VPI’s proposal.

On Nov. 20, DHHS told Community Care to expect a 30-day notice regarding WCI’s closure on Dec. 1.

On Nov. 22, Community Care told DHHS VPI had rescinded its proposal.

On Nov. 28, WCI staff were informed the facility would close.

On Nov. 29, WCI members and their families were informed.

On Dec. 1, DHHS told Community Care it will close WCI in 30 days.

Price said Community Care requested an extension of 30 to 60 days, but the county has no funding for WCI in its 2018 budget.

He estimated it would cost the county about $180,000 per month to keep the facility open.

County Supervisor Bob Flease of Mukwa said he has received calls from two constituents. One of them was a mother whose adult child works at WCI.

“She was crying,” Flease said. “What’s going to happen to these people?”

Flease noted the people who work at WCI cannot be left home alone and their parents work.

He said the families had been told the place would not close.

“That was a lie,” Flease said. “I think it’s being mishandled and these people should be given answers as to what will happen to their children.”

Price said Community Care would be responsible for providing similar services, including transportation and work within a private business, for WCI members.

“We have wrestled with this program for the last couple years,” said Supervisor Gerald Murphy of Farmington. “We thought somebody would take over WCI and run it the way it has been run.”

Murphy, who also chairs the Health and Human Services Board that oversees the department, said the state has shifted its focus from sheltered workshops to community services.

County Chair Dick Koeppen said the county should not be blamed for closing WCI.

“We’re just not signing a contract with them,” he said, noting Community Care is not paying what the county needs to run the program.

“Is there something we can do? Can we implement an emergency stop-gap?” asked Supervisor Gene Sorenson of Waupaca. “I’m not comfortable with the county simply turning our back on it.”

Supervisor Pat Craig of Royalton said the county needs to educate taxpayers about the financial issues that are forcing it to close WCI. She also noted the public perception that the county seems to prefer to spend money on buildings rather than people.

Craig said she spoke with a taxpayer who told her, “As a county, you closed down Lakeview Manor because it was losing money. You’re closing down WCI because it’s losing money. But you’re going to spend $30 million to build a new highway facility.”

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