St. Paul-based Franciscan Health Community said it will close its St. Mary's Home in Highland Park because of financial challenges that officials say span the nursing home industry.

The nursing home said it was beginning the process of finding new places to live for about 70 residents currently at St. Mary's Home.

It will officially close Dec. 31, and about 150 employees will lose their jobs, said Joe Stanislav, the president and chief executive officer of Franciscan Health Community.

"This was an extremely difficult decision to make, but the current model of care is no longer viable given changes in health care funding combined with the costly improvements needed to our 74-year-old facility," Stanislav said.

The closure is part of a broader trend for nursing homes in the east metro and across the state.

In 2008, Good Shepherd Care Center in St. Paul's Dayton's Bluff neighborhood closed, displacing about 90 residents and eliminating 178 jobs. That was followed by the 2009 closure of Good Samaritan nursing home in Roseville, which affected about 50 residents and 87 workers.

St. Mary's will be the seventh nursing home in the city to close and the 36th closure statewide since 2003, according to Aging Services of Minnesota, a St. Paul-based trade group for nursing home operators.

"It's more and more common," said Adam Suomala, a spokesman for Aging Services of Minnesota. "It's sort of that slow strangulation by diminished funding from state and federal resources."

Suomala added that St. Mary's Home faced the same challenges encountered by other operators in the state as aging facilities require major repairs at a time when operating margins are tight.

At St. Mary's Home, officials said a federal fire code mandate that takes effect at the end of the year means the facility was facing a costly repair to eliminate a "wood deck" between the top floor and roof of the nursing home. The structural feature is not uncommon in buildings the age of St. Mary's Home, Stanislav said, but it has been recognized as a fire risk across the country.

Also, the nursing home would have needed to invest in new elevator equipment and make other capital improvements in the next year or two to keep the doors open.

St. Mary's Home faces more fundamental economic challenges, including low payments from federal and state health insurance programs, Stanislav said. In addition, more people are receiving services in their homes instead of nursing homes.

An adult day services program and a program called Southwest Area Meals, both of which shared staff and facilities with St. Mary's Home, will end Nov. 30.

But Franciscan Health Community will continue to operate its home health and hospice programs as well as a senior living program in St. Paul. The nonprofit group also will maintain a program for cancer patients called Our Lady of Good Counsel Home in St. Paul.

For now, officials say they are focused on patient transitions with the closure of St. Mary's Home. Then, the focus will shift to what to do with portions of the Highland Park campus that will no longer be in use, said Ed Martini, chair of the board of directors for Franciscan Health Community. Pioneer Press