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Harmony House open in temp facility

When lightning struck Harmony House II last month, the owner of the assisted living residence that was home to eight people had a plan in place to accommodate residents in the event evacuation was required.

Owner Sharon Kotter acknowledges that when she devised the evacuation plan years ago, she did so with the benzene spill in mind. The house, in the 7600 block of John Avenue in the village of Superior, was built within the initial evacuation after a Burlington Northern train derailed from a trestle in 1992, and a tanker car carrying benzene broke open, covering much of the Twin Ports in a toxic cloud.

That forethought has kept the business operating as engineers and others determine what to do with the house eight seniors called home in the village of Superior.

Harmony House II — complete with its staff and residents — are temporarily housed in a third-floor wing of Superior Rehabilitation Center, operating separately from the skilled-care facility.

Harmony House, which is licensed as a community-based residential facility, is still operating under its own license, and providing services its residents apart from the residents that require skilled-care at Superior Rehabilitation Center with permission of the state.

"I had kind of an agreement with the previous owners here at Superior Rehab for anything if we had to evacuate and they would provide beds at that point," Kotter said. "They came right away and they already had beds set up for us." She said after the residents had lunch at the first Harmony House, which she also owns, Superior Rehab picked up the residents to move them to the skilled-care facility. The new owner checked with the state to ensure the two facilities, operating under different licenses, she said. Two Superior Rehab residents had to be moved to clear the wing where Harmony House is operating.

Superior Rehab had to work with state officials to make it happen because of the differences in the licenses and regulations the two facilities operate under, said Melody Krattenmaker, administrator of Superior Rehab. She said having Harmony House in the same building hasn't impeded Superior Rehab's ability to serve its residents.

"We're licensed for 118 beds, but made the conscious decision a couple years ago, we were really going to try to push private rooms and not have two people in a room throughout the entire building," Krattenmaker said. "We have capacity because of that so we were able to dedicate an entire wing to them and still not affect a single resident."

Kotter said they were fortunate and none of the residents lost their belongings. They are being cleaned by Paul Davis and returned to the residents in their temporary home.

"If we don't need them up here — some of the beds we won't need, but hospital beds are being replaced by their own — they are storing them for us until the new house opens," Kotter said. "All their pictures, all the things that were really important to them, we're getting back up here. So eventually they'll have all their belongings here."

Kotter said the fire department also managed to save residents medical records and medications. She said firefighters only stopped trying to retrieve anything after a ceiling collapsed.

"We brought their normal music people up here; they played for them, so that was as normal as we could be," said Tammy Susans, Kotter's daughter and assistant director of Harmony Houses. "They're going to let us use their bus once a month to take them out together, which will be nice."

Kotter said after surveying residents they have decided they will go out to dinner and the bus and driver are included in their lease agreement.

Right now, Harmony House is purchasing meals from Superior Rehab because they don't have a kitchen and Superior Laundry is handling the laundry for residents and Harmony House.

Susans said they did get a refrigerator so they can keep snacks and beverages on hand for Harmony House residents.

"They're really doing better than I thought they would," Kotter said of the residents. "The families are excellent. They've been coming up and taking them out."

Kotter said she advised families that they would be at Superior Rehab for a while in the event they wanted to seek a different placement, but none did.

Whether Harmony House will be reroofed and gutted for rehabilitation, or razed and rebuilt was still uncertain this week.

Krattenmaker said she believes the regulators will continue to work with them to accommodate both facilities because of the uncertainty involved.

"I would imagine for the good of the people that are affected, it would make more sense to stay here in this arrangement," Krattenmaker said. "That's hard on people, ... to go through this, and have to move somewhere, and move somewhere else before they have to move back."

Kotter said while everyone from firefighters and her staff to Superior Rehab has been wonderful, she is eager to settle back into a home with the residents of Harmony House II.

"I just want it up and done," Kotter said. "I want them to move on it so we can get them home as quick as possible."