Donors want Missing Link money back
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Aug 06, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Donors want Missing Link money back

Stratford Gazette

Jeff Heuchert, editor@stratfordgazette.com

There’s little to show from the Ritz Lutheran Villa’s Missing Link campaign other than a donor wall recognizing those whose donations continue to sit in a bank collecting interest.

According to a letter sent to donors by the villa board of directors on June 14, hundreds of people contributed varying sums of money towards the campaign since it was started nearly 10 years ago.

As of March of this year, there was $1.16 million in the account, which has been invested in laddered strip bonds averaging an annual return of 1.3 per cent.

The villa had hoped to raise $3 million to redevelop the main hub of its building to include a community kitchen, restaurant, chapel, and physiotherapy area.

“Unfortunately, the project cost was much higher than the funds raised, and therefore the plans as presented to donors cannot move forward,” the letter states.

The project was sold to the public at the time as a key component to the long-term care home’s planned  assisted living suites and life lease apartments – a project that never progressed.

The Missing Link was still a focus when, in 2009, the villa announced plans for a new $23 million building to merge the beds from both the villa and Mitchell Nursing Home.

But that project also ran into funding problems, both on the villa’s end and the province’s, and was subsequently put on the back burner, leading to further questions in the community about when or how the Missing Link money would be used.

As a long-time Mitchell resident, Doreen Skinner says she cares a great deal about the Ritz Lutheran Villa, so much in fact, she donated $5,000 towards the campaign and canvassed for donations on the villa’s behalf.

But she is tired of waiting for the money to be spent and would like her donation returned – and says she’s not the only person who feel that way.

Some people in the community have even approached the mayor about holding a public meeting to try to get some answers.

“Definitely we’re not happy about it,” Skinner says. “We gave our money in good faith thinking it was going to be used to (support) assisted living accommodations and now that plan has gone down the tubes.”

While she hasn’t approached the villa directly, Skinner says she plans to speak her mind when the villa follows through with its plans to engage the public to determine how best to spend the money.

“That money was collected for one purpose and all of it was to be used for that. If they’re not going to do that, than we better have a meeting and decide what’s happening,” she adds.

Skinner says her commitment to the campaign pales in comparison to those private citizens who donated upwards of $100,000.

“I feel very badly for them,” she adds. “It has to be far more frustrating for them than it is for people like me.”

Villa board chair, Deb Little, who didn’t join the board until after the Missing Link campaign was up and running, says any decisions about  donated funds must be reviewed with Revenue Canada, which hasn’t happened yet.

“The issue of returning donor money is very complicated,” she adds, “And I really don’t have the answers.”

Since the letter was sent out in June to past donors, the villa hasn’t  received any complaints or people asking for their money back, she notes.

Ideally, Little says the Missing Link money can be held onto until a time when the villa is ready to move forward with a larger redevelopment project – whether it’s a new building for beds or something different.

“The Missing Link still exists,” she adds. “The money is earmarked for that project.”

Little says the board top priority at this time is finding a new medical director and administrator and continuing to attract new residents to fill empty beds – which has a direct impact on the villa’s funding from the province.

To address a speculated $70,000 monthly shortfall in its operating budget, the villa announced on July 22 staffing changes including reduced shifts for personal support workers and registered nurses. It’s also expected some empty shifts will not be filled.

In an email to local media, villa acting administrator, Sandy Hall, says the home is working closely with its union partners to ensure the long-term financial stability of the home by implementing staffing reductions.

“Unfortunately these reductions are necessary, but through creative planning we have been able to minimize the impact that reductions will have on residents, families, employees and the community.

“At this time we are happy to report that we expect all employees to remain employed with our homes.”

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