Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Look at all options for senior care

As the Blaine County commissioners grapple with how we care for our sick and elderly, they need to cast a wide net and look at all the options.

They recently refused to accept an invitation to travel to Montana to visit a senior-care facility built by a Texas-based for-profit company. The company is working with the local nonprofit Croy Canyon Foundation on plans to build a care facility here. Previous commissioners had encouraged the foundation to raise money, coordinate and build a senior-care facility.

Yes, this crop of commissioners, which traveled to Pocatello and Idaho Falls to look at facilities operated by other private companies, decided last month that it would be “unethical” to accept the Texas company’s offer to fly them to Montana.

The rejection as “unethical” bears examining. Such a trip would not be illegal. It’s not as though the company offered the trio an all-expenses paid trip to a Caribbean resort where they would be wined and dined and pampered while they discuss care options.

And if the commissioners think a plane trip and a couple nights lodging is too big a “gift” to accept? Perhaps the full-time commissioners should dig into the new $6,000 annual raises two of the three voted themselves last summer, rent an SUV and book rooms in a Billings budget motel. Or, they could legitimately bill the trip to the county.

Grappling with what may be the biggest domestic issue of our time isn’t easy. The county lacks a tiered-care system where seniors may move from independent living to assisted living to skilled care as they age.

The county currently subsidizes Blaine Manor, the area’s sole skilled nursing facility to the tune of between $700,000 and $950,000 a year in the 25-bed facility.

The commissioners seem anxious to end local tax funding, but that’s a question they should test with local voters before eliminating a funding leg that voters have approved before.

A global economy, women in the workplace and job opportunities that were once only the dreams of science fiction writers have left many family members living hundreds or thousands of miles apart. Today when older family members need assistance, families more than ever need help from outside the family.

The need is becoming more acute as baby boomers move into their latter decades. There’s no cookie-cutter formula that will meet all the needs out there, especially in a county with a relatively small population like ours. Different places may need and find different solutions.

The commissioners are in an unenviable position in trying to cope with this. Even so, they should look at all the options, find new combinations if they can and not move forward in the dark.

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