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La Crosse County hopes to provide two generations with care at proposed intergenerational center

County leaders are looking for partners to create program offering child care, dementia respite care at county nursing home

Entrance of the Hillview Health Care Center building
La Crosse County officials are working to open an intergenerational day center at the county-owned Hillview Health Care Center. Photo courtesy of La Crosse County

La Crosse County is hoping to address a local shortage of available childcare by creating an intergenerational day center at the county-owned nursing home.

The proposed center would offer respite care for people with dementia and other older adults alongside daycare for children at the Hillview Health Care Center in La Crosse.

Carissa Pagel-Smith, director of La Crosse County’s Aging & Disability Resource Center, said the goal is to offer both types of care at the same time instead of separate programs sharing a facility.

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“Having children sitting and doing work alongside older adults, we really do have that vision that it is fully integrated,” Pagel-Smith said.

The proposed intergenerational center is part of a nearly $20 million remodel of Hillview, which includes updating the nursing home facility and creating bridge housing for people experiencing homelessness. The project will use $12 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

The new model aims to address the dual challenges most communities in Wisconsin are facing a shortage of affordable child care options and an aging population that will need more care in future years.

Charlotte Peters, community development educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Division of Extension, said caring for both groups together offers an opportunity to share facility and staffing costs, allowing a potential program to serve more people. She said research has also shown that bringing two generations together has its own benefits.

“It’s a huge thing for both the senior person and a child,” she said. “It helps a lot with kids to understand and interact with those older generations. It helps them grow mentally, physically and emotionally. And then it keeps your seniors active and engaged, and gives them the opportunity to get out of the house and interact with people.”

Despite the research supporting the idea, Peters said there are not many places in the U.S. offering the type of fully-integrated care that La Crosse County is pursuing. She has looked at existing programs in Seattle and Michigan as potential models.

Pagel-Smith said one of the biggest challenges will be meeting the many licensing requirements for child care centers in the state.

“There are some considerations there when it comes to having kids in the same space as adults,” she said. “There will be some hoops that we’ll have to jump through, but we’re really excited and very optimistic that we can make it work.”

Peters said another challenge will be getting the community on board. She said she’s already heard some pushback from child care providers and parents about the feasibility of combining both types of care.

“I think as we get more into the process and people start to understand more what we’re trying to accomplish with it, there will be a lot more buy-in with it,” she said.

The county put out a request for interest last week, hoping to find local child care providers, respite care programs and higher education programs that may be interested in partnering on the project.

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