Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Safe Haven remains under spotlight

Commissioners aim scrutiny, support at private company

Express Staff Writer

Larry Schoen

    The Blaine County commissioners focused their scrutiny and some support on Safe Haven Health Care during a public hearing on skilled nursing care Tuesday, demanding answers from company CEO Scott Burpee on everything from financing to pet policies.
    Burpee was explaining aspects of his proposal for a senior care facility in Bellevue for the second time Tuesday, in response to expressed confusion from commissioners last week on some of the plan’s specifics.
    The plan presented by the Pocatello-based firm is for a senior care campus that includes five 16-bed buildings known as “pods” that can be converted between skilled nursing and assisted living beds depending on demand. The pods are built to skilled nursing code standards.
    Burpee said he plans to build three pods at first, to open in late spring or early summer of 2014. One would contain 16 assisted living beds and the other two would house skilled nursing patients. Burpee estimated that 25 percent of his patients at the Bell Mountain facility in Bellevue would be private pay rather than Medicare or Medicaid patients.
    Commissioner Jacob Greenberg has expressed concern during recent meetings that the facility’s business model relied too heavily on private pay patients—those paying the entire cost of care themselves rather than relying on Medicare or Medicaid.
    However, Burpee said that while the proposed ratio of private-pay patients to Medicare or Medicaid patients is higher than in his other facilities—the one in Pocatello, for example, is only 10 percent private pay—it’s still lower than average.
    Blaine Manor has an average of 25 to 35 percent of its patients paying privately.
    Safe Haven Health Care already owns and operates an assisted living facility in Bellevue, and Burpee said his facilities in Wendell and Gooding are full to bursting with patients from the Wood River Valley.
    “People are leaking out of the valley because they cannot find services here,” he said. “We know there’s a market here. It’s an underserved community. If nothing else, we’re going to build assisted living anyway.”
    Burpee said his company would take over operations of Blaine Manor in October, after the money from the Blaine Manor levy runs out, and subsidize operations there until at least three “pods” are built at the Bell Mountain location.
    The company would also take over the Blaine Manor skilled nursing facility license and Medicare/Medicaid certification, transferring both to the new facility. Burpee said the company would also be willing to sign a contract that would require it to have a certain number of skilled nursing beds for at least the next 10 years, as well as prohibiting it from transferring the license out of the county.
    The commissioners said they had not made final decisions yet, but both Commissioner Larry Schoen and Commissioner Angenie McCleary spoke candidly about which proposals they prefer.
    Schoen said that while he remained open-minded, his level of openness had boundaries.
    “At this stage in the process, I am not inclined to want to consider proposals that are wholly or radically new in any way,” he said. “My preference in this matter is with Safe Haven.”
Schoen said he feels that Safe Haven offered essentially the same benefits as TanaBell Health Services, also a Pocatello-based company. However, he left the door open to a “reasonable, rational and cogent” proposal from Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation before a final decision is made on Feb. 12.
TanaBell has offered to lease the Blaine Manor facility, take over operations and streamline operations, while requesting a $4.2 million levy for renovations to the building to add 22 assisted living beds to the facility’s 25 skilled nursing beds.
However, Schoen said he likes the idea of a new facility in Bellevue and the fact that Safe Haven is not requesting anything from the county except for a license and certification transfer.
    “To me, the choice is fairly plain,” he said.
    Burpee pointed out that even if Safe Haven were to fail, the county wouldn’t lose any sort of investment.
    “If Safe Haven were to fail, you’re not out anything,” he said. “If TanaBell fails, you’re out $4 million.”
    But McCleary and members of the public said they feel the county would lose a great deal if Safe Haven—or any of the proposals—were approved and then failed.
    “If any of these proposals fail, it’s a huge loss for the community,” she said, adding that the degree of failure cannot be measured in public funds. “To me, that failure is enormous and very great and something that is of grave concern for me. That is scary, and it is a reality.”
    McCleary said she preferred the TanaBell proposal because she worries that Safe Haven would reduce its number of skilled nursing beds to below demand if the market for skilled nursing care became less profitable.
    “My concern is that over time, skilled nursing is going to become an even less financially viable service for a private facility,” she said. “Safe Haven or another provider might consider that the three pods should be all assisted living. I’m looking for assurance, whether it’s from Safe Haven or TanaBell or Croy Canyon, that skilled nursing is going to remain in this valley.”
    Burpee said that there would always be a demand for skilled nursing, no matter how profitable assisted living would be.
    “You need to be able to offer all of the services,” he said.  
    The next meeting on the subject will be Thursday, Jan. 31, at 9 a.m. at the Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

Kate Wutz:

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