Blaine County commissioners called three site visits to senior care facilities “eye-opening” and “emotional” during a public meeting Tuesday, adding that they felt much more informed regarding the complexities of senior care.
The commissioners visited four facilities on Monday: Safe Haven Health Care’s Mount Vernon and Monticello assisted living centers in Idaho Falls, and TanaBell Health Services’ Quinn Meadows Care Center and the Safe Haven Care Center in Pocatello.
Both Safe Haven and TanaBell have applied to operate combination assisted living/skilled nursing facilities in Blaine County.
Monticello and Mount Vernon are assisted living facilities that do not provide skilled nursing care. The Quinn Meadows Care Center provides both long-term skilled nursing and short-term rehabilitation. The Safe Haven Care Center in Pocatello houses both a skilled-nursing center as well as a separate psychiatric hospital.
Safe Haven is going ahead with plans to build a senior care center in Bellevue, but would like to buy the county’s nursing home license currently used for Blaine Manor. TanaBell’s proposal involves taking over management of the existing Blaine Manor facility while adding assisted living and streamlining staff and expenses.
The goal of the tours, said commissioners, was to clearly understand the types of senior care facilities that these companies are already running in the state.
Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said the trip was for him a combination of the emotional and intellectual aspects of providing elder care.
“I didn’t really go with the intention of deciding whether one facility or care provider was better than the other,” he said. “I, for one, went on this tour with an open mind and prepared with questions I wanted to address.”
Greenberg said that what he was mostly looking for was the quality of care in each facility, and he said he noticed that in each facility, the people providing care were full of professionalism, dedication and passion.
“I didn’t see anyone in any of those facilities that lacked any of those qualities,” he said. “It was really an eye-opener. It was a worthwhile trip.”
Commissioner Larry Schoen said he also was impressed with the staff at both facilities; however, he said, TanaBell and Safe Haven clearly serve different markets.
Schoen said that while TanaBell charges more and takes mostly private-pay patients, Safe Haven’s Pocatello center takes mostly Medicaid and Medicare patients.
“These are people who don’t have anywhere else to go,” he said. “[Safe Haven] is providing care to some of the most challenging patients, and the level of management skill it takes is almost overwhelming to contemplate.”
County Administrator Derek Voss said in an interview after the meeting that the psychiatric hospital is attached to the skilled-nursing facility but is technically a separate facility, separated from the skilled-nursing facility by a locked and key-coded door. Voss said patients are referred between the facilities when patients’ conditions warrant it.
Commissioner Angenie McCleary said she also found it helpful to see the care providers in action.
She added that she had been contacted by members of the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation who were concerned that the commissioners would not be visiting a facility run by Greystone Communities, the Texas-based company that would manage the planned Croy Canyon Ranch facility east of Hailey.
Though Greystone does not have a facility yet open in Idaho, McCleary said the company is determined to get the commissioners to visit one of their facilities.
“They said they would have a private plane available free of charge if we wanted to see the Billings [Mont.] facility,” she said.
All three commissioners quickly dismissed the idea of accepting a free flight to Billings courtesy of Greystone Communties, citing ethical issues with taking something of that value from a company that is competing with others for the chance to build a senior care facility.
Voss said the offer did not violate any state laws, but posed “challenges” in terms of ethics, and Greenberg said he agreed.
“It’s just as big a problem morally as it might be legally,” he said, suggesting that perhaps a virtual visit, conducted through video chat software, might serve as a compromise.
McCleary said another option would be for the commissioners to fly to the company’s Seattle facility, at the cost of $260 per person. However, Greenberg and Schoen both rejected that idea, Schoen saying that such a trip would not be seen as a good use of taxpayer funds.
“If they had a facility in Idaho, I would be more than willing to visit it,” he said, adding that a trip to Montana paid for by Greystone was not even under consideration, in his mind.
The commissioners agreed that they would look into a video chat situation and would ask Greystone to provide any information it felt would be helpful to the commissioners in future deliberations.
A representative from the Idaho Health Care Association is scheduled to come before the board of commissioners during a public meeting on Dec. 18 to provide more information on skilled nursing facilities.
McCleary said serious evaluation of the three proposals, as well as consideration of the legal issues surrounding each proposal, will begin in early January.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org