Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Blaine Manor staff looks for answers

Some workers wondering about future employment

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine Manor skilled-nursing facility in Hailey is slated to be turned over to a private operator on Oct. 1. The new provider plans to eventually move residents of the facility to a new building in Bellevue. Photo by Mountain Express

Blaine Manor trustees and Safe Haven Health Care CEO Scott Burpee debated during a Blaine County commissioners meeting Tuesday about when to tell Blaine Manor staff whether they will keep their jobs after the skilled-nursing facility is taken over by the private company. The issue remained unresolved, though Burpee and Blaine Manor board member Linda Haavik convened after the meeting to begin hashing out details on informing the staff. 

Safe Haven Health Care, a skilled-nursing and assisted-living company chosen by Blaine County commissioners to take over operations at Blaine Manor on Oct. 1, is also building a new facility in Bellevue. Burpee has said he hopes to transfer all the patients at Blaine Manor, plus whatever staff is needed, to the new facility when it is completed in mid-2014. 

However, because the facility will be managed by the larger Safe Haven corporation, certain departments that exist at Blaine Manor—such as human resources, payroll and other administrative divisions—could be managed from the company’s headquarters in Pocatello.

Blaine Manor board member Linda Haavik said Burpee was provided with a list of current Blaine Manor staff and their roles within the organization. But Burpee said he generally prefers to work with staffs of facilities he’s taken over with a much shorter lead time—one month before the acquisition, rather than the six months he is currently presented with.

“There’s a change and there are going to be some personnel changes, some by choice and some by necessity,” he said. “It’s a bit of a balancing act.”

He said that if staff members are told too early about the transition, they may flee the facility for other jobs, leaving the current operation struggling to find staff to care for patients in the interim.

“We need to keep the patients in mind when we’re talking about the impact of decisions,” he said. “Patients are there for a reason. They may have a terminal illness, they are sick. They are fragile.”

Burpee said he is trying to avoid increasing stress on patients who may find that a favorite caregiver has chosen not to stay—patients who will soon have to move to a completely new facility and deal with new staff as well.

But Haavik and Blaine Manor Director of Nursing Margaret Gartner said staff members are not likely to leave; they just want to be informed about the future.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a mass exodus,” Gartner said. “I think they need these jobs, I think they want to take care of these residents and I think it’s the unknown that is scaring them.”

County Commissioner Larry Schoen said he agreed, pointing out that Blaine Manor is going to close and that current staff members deserve to know whether they’ll be able to find jobs with Safe Haven.

“[Blaine Manor] will be issuing pink slips to all of the employees, and it’s up to the employees to apply for positions with Safe Haven,” he said.

Commissioner Angenie McCleary pointed out that in other acquisitions in which Burpee had been involved, the staff and public might not have been so aware of the transition as they are in this case.

“It’s not as though it was quiet and released to the public just beforehand,” she said. “We have a situation where the public and the Blaine Manor staff are very aware of the transition. Good communication all through the process is going to be important.”

County Administrator Derek Voss said he would continue to work on a timeline for when each step of the transition process would be completed. The commissioners plan to discuss a formal resolution expressing their intent to enter into a service agreement with Safe Haven during their meeting on Tuesday, April 2.

The county—which is providing extensive funding to Blaine Manor—decided in February that it would turn over operation of Blaine Manor to Safe Haven to save taxpayer money. A special tax levy to support Blaine Manor on a limited-term basis is scheduled to expire at the end of September.

Kate Wutz:

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