Warm water wait

(First published in the January 23, 2020 issue of City Pages)

The new therapy pool at North Central Health Care will open this spring


Construction still underway: The new warm water therapy pool will be located in a separate facility on the NCHC campus

Those excited about the warm water therapy pool in Wausau opening don’t have long to wait. The new pool should be open this spring.

Work on the new facility at North Central Health Care has been underway since summer, and represents the first of much more construction to come in a $73 million overhaul of the entire campus on Wausau’s southeast side. And now there’s a good chance the whole thing will come in under budget, says NCHC CEO Michael Loy.

There are two reasons, Loy says. Bids came in lower than expected, as did interest rates. All that means the total project cost could end up being lower than $70 million, Loy says. (The therapy pool was approved separately and prior to the campus overhaul, and is not part of that figure.)

NCHC’s old therapy pool has been beloved by its vocal users, but for the past several years its future was uncertain because of budget concerns, especially when staff started noticing failure in the infrastructure. NCHC officials said they’d likely have to close it. A group calling themselves The Warm Water Works formed to lobby for a replacement pool, and at one Marathon County meeting held at NCHC, dozens of people stood up and expressed the way the therapy pool helped them manage illnesses, recover from injuries, get back to work, and even recover from addiction to opioid medications.

Marathon County offered $3 million toward the roughly $6 million pool project, leaving fundraisers to find the rest. They raised $3.25 million in a matter of a few months by February 2018. Ground officially broke last summer. The new pool facility will be located in front of the NCHC campus, near the Mount View Nursing home. Construction has largely continued on schedule despite the high amount of snow, says County Facility Planner Troy Torgerson. Work on the Community based Residential Facility and Youth Hospital, the other two building projects currently under construction, slowed slightly because of trouble getting the materials.

In anticipation of the new pool opening, NCHC hired more therapy staff — now 2.6 full-time equivalent positions compared to 1.2 staff — and eliminated a waitlist that had existed at the pool. NCHC was able to recruit a therapist because the pool’s future is no longer uncertain, Loy says. 

Future phases of NCHC’s campus overhaul will include an all new Mount View Care Center nursing home that will include a four-story tower and a coffee shop and bistro; and overhauls to NCHC hospital wing and addiction treatment center Lakeside Recovery.

One of the interesting features of Mount View is that it will be divided into 32-bed modules that can be changed to fit different specialties as trends on senior health care change. That flexibility will be crucial to the nursing home’s success, Loy says, as trends in senior needs evolves. NCHC has seen some of that already – it has reduced the total number of beds from 220 to 176 as more seniors are staying at home longer, needing less non-specialized nursing home care.