Friday, July 20, 2012

County drills down on skilled nursing

Commissioners, Blaine Manor board set priorities

Express Staff Writer

Derek Voss

A skilled-nursing facility in Blaine County must be able to provide safe and compassionate care for all residents with no cost to taxpayers, the Blaine County commissioners agreed during a meeting Tuesday.

The commissioners gathered with County Administrator Derek Voss and members of the Blaine Manor board for a public hearing to determine exactly what qualities they value most highly in a permanent skilled-nursing facility in Blaine County.

Voss said he had asked the commissioners as well as three Blaine Manor board members to sort through a list of desired qualities in a new facility and rank them in order of priority. He said that what he discovered was that despite their unique perspectives, members of both boards generally agreed on what was important to them both in the long and short term.

Those surveyed agreed that, in the short term, the most important things were to provide safe and compassionate skilled nursing care for all socio-economic groups, preferably at the current Blaine Manor building.

However, all agreed, in the long term, the ultimate goal is to find a solution that would not rely on taxpayer subsidies such as the $1.9 million voter-approved levy currently funding Blaine Manor's shortfall.

All six surveyed said they wanted an efficient, stable and fiscally responsible system in both the short-term and long-term solutions.

"I find it extremely interesting that the combined opinion and the Blaine County commissioners opinion are identical," said Blaine Manor board member Linda Haavik. "Without looking at [specific] numbers, they are identical in terms of level."

Voss said the survey is important because while it repeats the goals formerly stated by the county commissioners, it also points out what is most important.

"At some level, this is telling us what we already know," he said, "But it clarifies things."

The fact that the commissioners would prefer to use the current Blaine Manor building in the short-term is interesting, Voss said, and the priorities also leave room for a limited taxpayer subsidy until another independent solution can be found.

"We are OK with using existing resources," he said, "But over the long term, we need to get away from government [support]."

Voss said that means the county will need to come up with a smooth, stable transition from a government-supported facility to one that is financially independent. But many options are still open to the board, including a possible assisted-living component at any new facility, building a new facility and retaining the current board.

"You have the ability to negotiate a great deal here," Voss told the commissioners. "You can find a solution that meets your needs."

The commissioners agreed to have Voss and county Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves hash out either a request for qualifications or a request for proposals for a long-term solution based on the priorities presented at the meeting,

The requests would clearly outline what a successful proposal would include—provisions for Medicare and Medicaid patients, proof of safe and compassionate care and funding plans that would show the facilities' ability to remain solvent—as well as the standards by which the proposals would be evaluated.

Former Blaine Manor board member Rick Baird said the goal of having a nonsubsidized facility would be a "relief" to taxpayers, even if they are willing to fund one in the short term.

Commissioner Tom Bowman said that while Voss and Graves formulate a request for qualifications or proposals—a process that could take four to five weeks—the commissioners will continue to work on a short-term plan independent of the eventual, permanent solution.

Kate Wutz:

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