Wednesday, February 13, 2013

County leaders choose Safe Haven

Private operator to provide senior care

Express Staff Writer

    A year-long decision-making process came to an end Tuesday as Blaine County commissioners voted to accept Safe Haven Health Care’s proposal for a skilled-nursing and assisted-living facility to serve the region.
    The commissioners were split in the decision. Commissioners Larry Schoen and Jacob Greenberg voted in favor of the proposal, but Commissioner Angenie McCleary said she was vehemently opposed to it.
    “I think you’re making the wrong decision,” she said shortly before the final 2-1 vote. “It’s the worst decision the board has made in my time as a county commissioner. I have made difficult decisions and it has not always been clear what the right decision was. [But] this one I think is clear.”
    Safe Haven Health Care, based in Pocatello, has proposed building an assisted-living and skilled-nursing facility in Bellevue that would eventually encompass 80 assisted-living and skilled-nursing beds. The company plans to build five “pods” of 15 beds each. The pods will be built to skilled-nursing regulations and codes, but can be switched to assisted-living beds if the market demands.
     Safe Haven CEO Scott Burpee said he plans to take over operations of county-funded Blaine Manor at the end of fiscal 2013 and assume all of the facility’s losses until Safe Haven’s Bell Mountain facility in Bellevue can be completed in late spring or early summer of 2014.
    He said he plans to transfer all Blaine Manor patients from Hailey to his new facility, as well as most of the staff, if they choose to work for his company.
    In return, he proposed that Blaine Manor’s skilled-nursing-facilities license and Medicare/Medicaid certification be transferred to the Bell Mountain facility. This transfer would allow Burpee to take on skilled-nursing patients using Medicare or Medicaid immediately, rather than waiting up to a year after the new facility opens to obtain state certification.
    Burpee and Safe Haven operate seven assisted-living facilities in the state, including one in Bellevue, as well as a hospital and skilled-nursing facility in Pocatello. The company has stated that it plans to keep its smaller, existing Bellevue facility open once the Bell Mountain facility is in operation.
    McCleary said she had several major concerns, including that the county would be handing over its license to a private company that might choose to move or eliminate skilled-nursing care if that part of the facility appears to be losing too much money.
    “I worry that skilled nursing is not a viable business,” she said. “I think that’s a shame, considering what we are trying to preserve is skilled-nursing care.”
    McCleary also said she was concerned that Burpee’s record—which includes three lawsuits against Burpee and his former corporation, Valley Vista Care Corp., which were later settled—indicates that he cannot provide the quality of care she would want for Blaine County seniors.
    “To me, I have much more confidence in TanaBell than in Safe Haven,” she said.
    TanaBell Health Services, based in Pocatello, had proposed taking over the Blaine Manor facility and expanding it to include 20 to 25 assisted-living beds. The proposal would have required a two-year, $3.8 million levy to cover operating losses and construction costs for the expanded facility. TanaBell would have had the option of buying the facility—or expanding into a new, larger facility, potentially built by the nonprofit Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation—at the end of 10 years.
    Greenberg and Schoen said they were concerned about investing taxpayer money into a facility that would eventually be sold, perhaps below market value. Greenberg pointed out that a poll conducted on the Idaho Mountain Express website over the past week showed that, as of press time, 60 percent of website voters supported Safe Haven’s proposal.
    “Although I think it’s unscientific, the numbers weigh in favor of Safe Haven,” he said.
    Schoen challenged a statement made by members of the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation—which also submitted a proposal—that stated that the county was looking to “shuffle off” seniors onto a private corporation by choosing Safe Haven.
    “I reject the idea that the county is seeking to shun its seniors, dump its seniors, wash its hands of seniors by handing them off to the private sector,” he said. “Everyone in this area is for-profit. TanaBell is a for-profit company.”
    Schoen contended that Safe Haven could provide safe and compassionate care for all seniors.
    “This man (Burpee) has done what others have not done and stepped up and said he has a solution,” he said.  
    The details of the contract between Safe Haven and Blaine County will be determined in future meetings.

Kate Wutz:

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