Friday, December 28, 2012

Lack of funding plagues senior-care plans

Decision expected to come next year

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County is still without a solution for permanent non-subsidized senior care at the end of 2012, but county officials say the answer could be coming soon.

County commissioners began debating the future of senior care—specifically skilled-nursing care—in February, as commissioners set to work on finding a replacement solution for the Blaine Manor Levy, set to expire in 2013.

Since 2001, the county has subsidized the operating losses of Blaine Manor in Hailey, 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 operation’s losses, as county revenues dropped and the manor’s expenses rose.

Voters overwhelmingly said yes to the levy—with the understanding that Croy Canyon Ranch, a proposed senior-care facility west of Hailey that would not require county support, would be completed by the time the levy ran out in 2013.

However, it became clear early this year that the proposed facility had fallen far behind in its fundraising goals. To date, the foundation supporting it has raised $3.6 million of the $13.4 million it needs to build it. As a result, the county needed to decide whether to go to taxpayers again to support Blaine Manor.

The idea of a permanent levy to support the skilled-nursing facility was brought forth in February, as Commissioner Larry Schoen said it could be one solution for guaranteeing ongoing senior care in the county. However, Schoen added that if a solution could not be found and a levy was not approved, the county could be faced with no option but to close Blaine Manor.

“At a certain point, literally, the county will not have enough money to subsidize Blaine Manor,” he said.

However, Schoen later said during a meeting in March that he had heard from two private health care companies—Safe Haven Health Care and BRP Health Care—that the county’s existing subsidy was encouraging Blaine Manor to operate with excess staff and at a low Medicaid reimbursement rate.

“I’m not a skilled-nursing expert,” he said in a later interview. “But there is enough focus on this issue that when two separate companies say the same thing, I take it very seriously.”

The first glimpse at plans for other future facilities came in March, when Pocatello-based Safe Haven Health Services announced plans to build a privately owned assisted living and skilled-nursing facility in Bellevue.

Company CEO Scott Burpee said in March that Blaine County’s lack of dual-care senior facilities makes the area a perfect market for the site. He added that the facility could obviate construction of Croy Canyon Ranch. 

Though the foundation worked for more than a decade to raise the $13.4 million required, Burpee said his facility could save it further effort.

“Why would they want to still go ahead?” he said in a March interview. “[But] I’m sure they don’t think anything can be better than what they have planned.”

Burpee said construction would be completed by the time the Blaine Manor Levy expires. He proposed to the county in October that he could take over operations of Blaine Manor for a time, then transfer the facility’s Medicaid and Medicare certification, along with the manor’s facilities license, to the new senior home in Bellevue.

But Croy Canyon Ranch was undeterred, forming a business plan and presenting a proposal to the commissioners in June. The foundation requested a $29.5 million general obligation bond to pay for the facility’s construction and other expenses.

The foundation also fired off a volley of harsh words for Safe Haven’s facilities in March, saying that Safe Haven should not be considered a solution for the county because its facilities have not scored as high on state surveys as Blaine Manor.

“Blaine Manor is an exceptional care facility,” said foundation Campaign Chair Anita McCann. “It’s the kind of care I want to see continue in this valley. Safe Haven had areas that were more dubious, where the ratings were low.”

In March, a series of court cases came to light involving Burpee’s former company, Valley Vista Care Corp. The company settled three cases in the past 10 years that included allegations of negligence and wrongful death, as well as allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Burpee personally by a former employee.

But Burpee said lawsuits of that type are a part of the senior-care business, and that the employee’s charges were “sensationalized.”

“I think people are trying to make more out of this than there is,” he said. “If you’re going to be in health care, you’re going to get lawsuits. It’s not a reflection of anything except that these things happen. It’s just the way it goes.”

The county is currently considering the proposals of Safe Haven, Croy Canyon and a Pocatello-base company called TanaBell Health Services. TanaBell has joined forces with Blaine Manor and has proposed taking over operation of the facility while expanding it to include assisted living.

Croy Canyon Ranch has also announced plans to change its proposal, lowering the bond amount and building independent senior living separately from and later than the rest of the facility.

The commissioners plan to begin evaluating the legal issues and other risks entangled with each proposal early in January.

Kate Wutz:

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