Friday, January 3, 2014

Senior care dominated county debates

Safe Haven contract finally inked

Express Staff Writer

    The Blaine County commissioners tackled a contentious issue this year regarding the transition of the county-subsidized Blaine Manor facility to Safe Haven Healthcare’s privately operated Bell Mountain senior care facility in Bellevue. A decision to contract with Safe Haven was made after months of deliberation and public comment. Many people opposed the idea, voicing concerns through petitions and letters to the Idaho Mountain Express.
    By a 2-to-1 vote on July 23, the Blaine County commissioners approved an agreement to turn over operation of Blaine Manor to Safe Haven for a year beginning Oct. 1 until the company opens its new 80-bed facility in Bellevue. At that time, skilled nursing will be included there with assisted- and independent-living quarters.
    “Getting the county out of skilled nursing has been a goal since the hospital merger and the agreement by the county to take over skilled nursing, and it’s been a challenge to figure out how best to do that,” Commissioner Larry Schoen said. “I believe that Safe Haven is a good, respected, responsible operator in the field and that they will do a good job in Blaine County.”
    The agreement included a provision that Safe Haven maintain a Medicaid rating of at least three stars and receive no “immediate jeopardy” tags from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
    Commissioner Jacob Greenberg told Safe Haven representatives that the community will be closely monitoring the quality of care.
    “If the community is there to say it’s a good facility, you’ll be successful,” he said. “If people say it’s a bad facility, the likelihood is that you won’t be successful.”

Commissioners’ salary increase
    Following public opposition, the Blaine County commissioners in late August agreed to cut a proposed salary increase for them by 40 percent.
    In July, the commissioners had included a $20,400 raise for themselves—from $61,522 in fiscal 2013 to $81,900—as well as raises for other elected officials in 2014. Part of the commissioners’ rationale in awarding the raise was to avoid limiting the position, which all said was at least a full-time job, to only the independently wealthy.
    Commissioner Larry Schoen said he had changed his mind after hearing from people angry at a $20,000 raise in one year.
    “I get it, and frankly, I agree with it,” he said.
    Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said that after seeing the economic impact on local businesses caused by the Beaver Creek Fire, he became convinced that the commissioners should not award themselves any salary increase in 2014.

Bike path repair
    A group loyal to the Wood River Trails system lobbied for a $3.5 million levy this year to fix disintegrating parts of the 20-mile-long bike path. After receiving overwhelming community support, the levy passed in a special election in May by a vote of 2,155 to 455.
    The levy will be collected over two years, with $1.75 million collected each year, or about $21 per $100,000 of net taxable property value. The funds will go toward reconstruction of the paved trail from Hulen Meadows north of Ketchum to Gannett Road south of Bellevue, which will largely involve smoothing out the asphalt surface.

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