Friday, January 18, 2013

Keep public option open for nursing home, assisted living

As the Blaine County commissioners examine various avenues for providing medical care for chronically ill seniors and the disabled, they should not eliminate a public option.

Commission Chair Larry Schoen has already stated categorically that he will not support a public option while two other commissioners wisely have left the door open to date. The door should be open even if it’s only to adequately evaluate the risks, quality and viability of all options.

Deputy County Prosecutor Tim Graves advised the county recently that the best way to ensure continued availability of skilled long-term nursing care locally is to form a public hospital district instead of turning the job over solely to the private sector. Otherwise, the county cannot prevent such care from disappearing.

The commissioners should not make the assumption that county residents are opposed to the continuation of some local public financing of care for sick seniors and the disabled. Nor should they assume that private care always brings better care or that government cannot do a good job of providing public services.

To date, voters have been supportive of Blaine Manor, the county’s only nursing home. In 2010, voters approved a two-year $1.9 million levy to support it while the county assessed its options.

The hope was that a nonprofit could raise enough money to get a new tiered-care facility up and running. However, despite the efforts of the Croy Canyon Foundation, that hasn’t materialized.

Tiered care, with independent living units, assisted living units and skilled nursing care, is today’s gold standard for financing and making care available to seniors and the disabled. Yet, even if the area can’t achieve the gold standard, it needs to ensure that a good nursing home and assisted living are available to those who need it.

The real problem the county is facing is one faced by the entire nation—how to finance in-patient medical care for the chronically ill and disabled. The commissioners don’t have an enviable job in trying to address the issue when there’s no clear-cut path. It’s easier to run a firehouse or bus system than a nursing home.

But unless we want to send our seniors away from local families to distant care facilities, we have to find a workable solution. All options have to be on the table.

Let’s face it. In this nation, there’s no tried and true path for dealing with the challenges of aging. Those challenges today are being met only with a hodgepodge of efforts by families and professional care givers. No one, except the very wealthy, can easily find solutions for these challenges. The commissioners, with the help of professionals, need to find good options for the rest of us.

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