TanaBell Health Services faced opposition from elected officials and members of the public during a special meeting called to discuss senior care Thursday morning, despite advocates’ saying the company’s proposal could maintain local control while relieving the county of a long-term funding burden.
Troy Bell, CEO of the Pocatello-based company, clarified his proposal for taking over the Blaine Manor skilled nursing facility in Hailey. By asking for a voter-approved $4 million levy, Bell said, his company intends to remodel the Blaine Manor facility and cover construction and operating shortfalls in the short term.
The remodel would include the addition of between 20 and 25 assisted living units, which would be more profitable for the company and help cover the shortfall from the existing 25 skilled nursing beds.
Bell also said the existing Blaine Manor board could remain as an advisory board for the facility.
Blaine Manor board member Linda Haavik said the board would be open to allowing Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation a number of years to raise funds to build a tiered-care facility west of Hailey. She said that if the facility is ready, the licenses, patients and certifications from Blaine Manor could be transferred, and it could be managed by TanaBell.
One benefit, Bell said, is that he would be fully committed to retaining skilled nursing in the state, provided that Medicare and Medicaid continue to be funded by the state and federal government.
“As long as the state provides licenses and funding, you’ll have long-term skilled nursing care in the community,” he said.
Commissioner Angenie McCleary, who has been an outspoken supporter of the plan, reiterated during the meeting today that she believes that TanaBell and Blaine Manor would be most likely to provide a high level of care for the seniors of Blaine County.
“I have received numerous calls and emails from people [about Safe Haven],” she said. “They have raised concerns in a number of areas.”
Pocatello-based Safe Haven Health Care and Safe Haven CEO Scott Burpee presented for the second time last week a proposal that included building a campus-type facility with several “pods” of units that could be switched from assisted living to skilled nursing and vice-versa according to market demands.
The proposal does not involve a levy, and the company would take over operations and shortfalls at Blaine Manor starting in October until completion of its planned Bell Mountain facility in Bellevue.
McCleary said she heard from community members who decided not to put relatives in Safe Haven homes after visiting the facilities, from a former employee of Safe Haven who had a negative experience and from members of the Blaine Manor board who expressed concern.
“They could have endorsed Safe Haven, but they didn’t,” she said. “That is a measure of their opinion of [Safe Haven’s] quality of care.”
She also stated concern about three lawsuits against Burpee that involved his previous company, Valley Vista Care Corp.
Blaine Manor board member Steve Pauley asked the commissioners to take those lawsuits seriously, citing a March 2012 article in the Idaho Mountain Express that quoted Commissioner Larry Schoen and McCleary expressing concern about the suits.
“This operator has that history to live with,” Pauley said. “I hope you have the same feeling about these allegations that you did back then.”
Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said he understood the “moral obligation” to ensure a certain level of care, but added that he did not think Safe Haven would not provide good care—and its business model makes more sense.
Greenberg stated during a meeting last week that he had concerns about giving TanaBell $4 million in taxpayer funds to renovate a facility that the company would later buy. He added this week that he felt TanaBell would gain a renovated facility and pay “far below market value” for it at the end of its lease.
“Right now, my leaning is toward Safe Haven,” he said.
Greenberg joins Schoen in that leaning. Schoen stated last week that he felt TanaBell and Safe Haven would provide very similar services, but Safe Haven would do so at a much lower cost to the county.
Members of the public, including Bellevue residents and City Council members, said they agreed with Greenberg. Councilman Dave Hattula said privatizing skilled nursing the way hospital care was privatized in 2001 would be the best solution.
“I don’t really hear anyone complaining about St. Luke’s,” he said. “So are we going to burden the taxpayers more?”
Hattula added that he had not heard any negative comments about Safe Haven’s existing facility in Bellevue. Bellevue Councilwoman Janet Duffy said she agreed with Hattula that the county taxpayers should not be burdened further with levies for senior care, and Bellevue Councilwoman Barb Patterson said the county should keep in mind taxpayers’ budgets, not just the county budget.
“I love Blaine Manor,” she said. “You couldn’t ask for a better facility. But everyone is looking at budgets, and families have budgets, too.”
Still, some members of the public said they remained open to options that would require a levy or even a bond. Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation board member Janet Wygle said the county owes it to long-term residents to ensure that they had somewhere to go at the end of their lives.
“This is a loving, caring community,” Wygle said. “We take care of our kids, we take care of our criminals—there was a privatized option for a jail, we could have handed it over, but we didn’t, because we even care about our criminals. The county owes a lot more to our seniors than shuffling them off to a private entity.”
The county will continue its discussion on senior care on Tuesday, Feb. 12, the date Schoen had previously set as a deadline for a final decision. The commissioners will be out of town at a conference next week.
Kate Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org