WATERTOWN — Citing its revenue streams drying up due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bethesda Lutheran Communities is closing its group homes, day programs and employment services in Watertown and throughout Wisconsin.
Its corporate office will remain in Watertown, albeit with staff reductions.
"Providing the very highest quality living and program services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities has always been challenging, given we experience financial loss due to the low level of Medicaid reimbursement," Don Klein, senior director of public affairs, said Friday.
According to Klein, COVID-19 and the resulting economic downturn have made things much worse for Bethesda.
"Our costs have skyrocketed quickly and revenue coming from many of our services and fundraising has diminished," he said. "The economic recession is expected to hit state budgets hard, further reducing the already inadequate funding for many of the services we provide, so as a result, we will be closing our group homes, day programs and employment services in Wisconsin."
Bethesda College and Bethesda's thrift stores are not affected by these decisions, and its new residential community concept — Bethesda Cornerstone Village — will have a presence in Wisconsin.
"While our corporate office will remain in Watertown, we have significantly reduced the number of positions there, as well," Klein said.
He noted that Bethesda officials have been working closely with state leaders, in preparation for the transition of people Bethesda supports and it is notifying parents and guardians of plans.
"We will partner every step of the way with the people we support, families and guardians, and care managers to transition care to another provider of their choice," Klein said. "We will also be supporting our employees who are impacted by this decision. We care very much for those who have given so much in service to people we support, and we are sad that they will be leaving us through no fault of their own."
Klein called the decisions leading up to Friday difficult.
"But they are necessary for us to thrive in the future and move forward with our vision to be the innovator for our industry," he said. "We are committed to providing new and innovative services, including Behavioral Health, Financial Services, Independent Living, Transition Services and Employment Services, and putting smart technology to work. These services have the potential to transform the lives of the 6.5 million people in the U.S. who have an intellectual and developmental disability. We look forward to helping more people achieve the brighter future they deserve."
Bethesda reportedly has community-based housing in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Indiana, New Jersey, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Oregon, California and Washington state.
According to the Watertown Historical Society, Bethesda was founded in 1904 as Faith House in a rented building on Margaret Street.