All options for the future of senior care—including a permanent levy to support Blaine Manor—were on the table for discussion Monday as the county commissioners struggled to find a solution for the valley's aging population.
"There is no debate about the need for this type of care," County Administrator Derek Voss said. "The question for the board really is, what is the role of county government in senior care?"
There were no easy answers to Voss' question, either from the commissioners or from the nearly 30 people assembled in the courthouse.
Since 2001, the county has subsidized the operating losses of Blaine Manor, the county's only skilled-nursing facility. In 2010, the county asked voters to weigh in on whether they would be willing to pay an extra $1.9 million over two years to support the manor's losses, as county revenues were dropping.
Voters approved that levy with the understanding that a new facility would be in place by the time the levy ran out in 2013. Now, with the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation well behind its fundraising goals to construct a tiered-care senior living center, the county has to decide whether to go to taxpayers again.
"Where it's leading us to is a big fork in the road—whether to allow another levy on the ballot or not," Commissioner Tom Bowman said. "The result of that levy really speaks to the future of senior care in the Wood River Valley."
Commissioner Larry Schoen suggested that a permanent levy could be one solution for ongoing senior care support in Blaine County. In fact, Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation board member Jed Gray said Blaine Manor plans to propose a permanent levy to the county during a commissioners meeting next week.
Schoen said that if voters don't pass the levy, Blaine Manor would have to shut down.
"At a certain point, literally, the county will not have enough money to subsidize Blaine Manor," he said.
There are other options for senior care in the Wood River Valley, some of which already exist and some that are set to come before the board later this year.
Perhaps the most comprehensive option for seniors is an in-home care program through the Senior Connection, which Executive Director Kim Coonis said is not only cheaper than putting relatives in a nursing home, but can eliminate the need for a skilled nursing facility.
"A lot of people think skilled nursing means living in a nursing home," she said. "It doesn't."
Coonis said Senior Connection staff members provide certified care to many aging Blaine County residents who otherwise would have to go to Blaine Manor.
"You don't have to have a nursing home [in the county,]" she told the commissioners. "It's your choice."
But Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation fundraising campaign Chair Anita McCann took issue with Coonis' argument, stating that in-home care is often more expensive than residence in a skilled nursing home, and that the county has an obligation to take care of the residents that have lived here for decades.
"If Blaine County loses care at the skilled level for seniors, it will be shameful," she said. "If I know I will have to be shipped out of here, it's a shame on the county."
However, in the near future, McCann may have another option apart from Blaine Manor. Garold Maxfield, CEO of assisted living company The Cottages, said he has plans to develop an assisted living community in the McHanville area just south of Ketchum.
The company already has facilities in Boise, McCall and Weiser, and is developing facilities in Twin Falls and Nampa.
"We're excited about the project, because there is a need for assisted living," Maxfield said.
The project would start with one building with a 16-resident capacity, and could expand to house even more. The facility could also help patients with Alzheimer's and dementia who don't need skilled nursing.
However, that option still would not solve the problem of how to fund Blaine Manor or another skilled-nursing facility.
Commissioner Angenie McCleary said the county is still dedicated to finding a solution, but the commissioners will have to balance fiscal responsibility with its obligation to serve its residents.
"It's a balancing of all of these priorities," she said. "We want to serve the public to the best of our ability."
The commissioners will take up the discussion again at their next meeting Tuesday.
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org