Wednesday, June 20, 2012

County’s senior-care options narrow

Commissioners prefer private funding for facility

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County commissioners decided Tuesday to temporarily put aside any options for skilled nursing in the area that rely on public funding as part of their business model.

The commissioners said that though all options are still on the table—including a $29.2 million general obligation bond to support construction and operation of Croy Canyon Ranch west of Hailey—those that require taxpayer funding are not preferred.

Commissioner Angenie McCleary called the level of public support required for the tiered-care facility for seniors "concerning," though she said she wasn't able to entirely eliminate the possibility of the county's helping to pay for skilled nursing on some level.

"I'm not convinced that we have a concept or solution that gets us to quality local skilled nursing without public support," she said. "I think that the ultimate solution would be one that doesn't involve county funding, [but] that's not my top priority."

Three concepts for providing skilled nursing care were presented to the county earlier this month. The first, a plan offered by the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation, called for a $29.2 million general obligation bond as well as private donations for construction and initial operation of a tiered-care facility that would include assisted living, skilled nursing and independent living. Members of the foundation board said last week that the facility would eventually be self-sustaining.

The second, from Pocatello-based TanaBell Health Services, would take over management of county-funded Blaine Manor in Hailey and seek to have the facility turn a profit by cutting overhead by 17 percent and increasing revenue. The company anticipates that the facility would break even in the short term.

The third, from Safe Haven Health Care, also based in Pocatello, outlines an already planned assisted-living and skilled-nursing facility near Bellevue. Safe Haven's plan includes no public support, and CEO Scott Burpee said during Tuesday's meeting that the company would be willing to buy Blaine Manor's administrative license for anywhere from $100,000 to $200,000 as well as provide jobs for much of the existing staff.

Commissioner Tom Bowman said that as long as viable options that don't require public funding exist, the county should give those priority—especially over Croy Canyon Ranch, which he said would be comparable to issuing a permanent levy for the operations of Blaine Manor.

"For me, a general obligation bond would be permanent," he said. "For the rest of my life, I'd be paying for it. The bill would show up just the same on my taxes."

Burpee also argued against a bond or levy for another skilled-nursing facility.

"Our facility would then be asked to pay property taxes to support a competitor," he said. "That's an issue that needs to be on the table."

Commissioner Larry Schoen called Croy Canyon Ranch's business model "unacceptable" due to the large amount of public funding needed, and questioned whether that investment would make the facility "too big to fail" if it were not able to break even as anticipated.

"We need to get on with the business of looking at some alternatives and investigating who our partners should be," he said.

The Blaine Manor board of trustees presented its own plan on Tuesday—a 65-bed facility that would include 25 skilled-nursing beds and 40 assisted-living units, housed in a remodeled version of the current building. Though the plan would require $3.6 million in private donations to remodel the building, board member Linda Haavik said the new facility would be much more self-sustaining.

"We believe that we can show anywhere from a $376,000 profit to a $7,300 loss," Haavik said, adding in a later interview that those numbers are preliminary and would depend on occupancy rates and levels of Medicaid reimbursement.

County Administrator Derek Voss said he would draft several scenarios for skilled nursing that would not require public funding and work with the Blaine Manor board to modify its business model before the next senior care discussion.

Katherine Wutz:

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