Friday, February 3, 2012

County seeks solutions for aging residents

Fire department: ‘Repeat patients’ are often seniors


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Care providers and medical professionals will begin to tackle the problem of how to provide care for the Wood River Valley's aging population on Monday, in the first of a series of workshops that could determine the county's role in providing senior care.

Almost 12 percent of Blaine County's population is over 65. That's up from 7.8 percent in 2000, and medical professionals are seeing that reflected in the calls they receive.

Ketchum Fire Department Chief Mike Elle said 24 percent of his department's call volume over the past seven months has been from people over 65 who have fallen and need assistance.

"The majority of them are senior skiers on the mountain that fall," he said. "But there are a fair amount of falls at home."

Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said his department has seen many "repeat patients" who consistently require help to get back in wheelchairs or into bed.

However, most of these seniors don't need the 24-hour hour skilled-nursing care provided by Blaine Manor, the only such facility in the valley—they just need a little extra help getting around.

Kim Coonis, executive director of the Senior Connection in Hailey, said one of the major gaps in senior care in the valley is the lack of an assisted-living facility.

Seniors in assisted living would have access to medical staff if necessary—in case of a fall, for example—but would otherwise live independently. In a tiered-care facility, such as the Croy Canyon Ranch planned for a site west of Hailey, residents could move from assisted living to skilled nursing if necessary.

"It can be their last home," Coonis said, which would prevent seniors from being shuffled from facility to facility if their medical conditions deteriorate.

Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation Executive Director Kathleen Eder said that option may come later than was hoped, prompting concern over how to fund Blaine Manor in the meantime.

Of the $13 million the foundation needs to raise for the facility, less than $4 million has been pledged, a situation that Eder said will likely delay the facility's opening until sometime after the $1.9 million Blaine Manor levy runs out at the end of 2013.

The levy was meant to cover the operating losses at the skilled-nursing facility in Hailey until Croy Canyon Ranch could open. With fundraising slower than expected and the senior population increasing, the county must decide what role it wants to play in helping the valley's seniors stay in the area.

Coonis and Eder said the county has no legal obligation to subsidize senior care, but that commissioners have set a precedent by asking taxpayers for the levy.

"We think there is past history that the county has provided for care and the public has supported that care," Eder said. "It's up to the commissioners to decide [if they want to continue.]"

Continuing to fund Blaine Manor's deficit would place a higher burden on taxpayers, who may be asked to support another levy to support the facility.

"What the county has to determine is, is it worth $700,000 of taxpayer dollars to keep 20 people at Blaine Manor?" Coonis said. "Inevitably, it will be the commissioners and the community who decide if we need a nursing home in the valley."

The group will convene Monday, Feb. 6, at 10 a.m. at the old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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