Nursing home future up in the air

Local entities, private group investigate keeping Valley

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Jackie James said Wednesday she wanted her elderly family member in a stable home to live out the remainder of her life.

And officials from the city of Craig, Moffat County and The Memorial Hospital said their entities would pledge $10,000 a piece to conduct a study on whether they can make that happen. James' comments and the public officials' pledge came during a two-hour meeting Wednesday in the basement of the VNA regarding the future of Valley View Manor in Craig.

The meeting was called as a result of Mariner Health Care's announcement last week that it would close the doors to the nursing home Aug. 2.

Mayor Dave DeRose, county commissioners, hospital officials, hospital board members, a representative from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and a representative from the VNA sat around a table in the front of the room, while about 20 concerned residents looked on. About 40 people in all filled the room.

The chance of 39 Valley View Manor residents having to be moved to homes in other communities, 60 employees losing their jobs and an estimated $12 million financial impact to the community has local officials scrambling to find a way to keep a nursing care facility in Craig.

Jackie James, who has had to begin searching for other area homes for her family member who currently lives at Valley View Manor, was one of several residents who spoke out in the meeting.

She said even if a solution could be found, she and other residents wouldn't know if it would be a permanent situation.

"We're concerned about stability," James said. "We want to know that we're not going to have to move her again. This has been very difficult for her."

The concern of everyone is how to run, and who can run, an operation that has been $583,000 in the red since Jan. 1 of this year.

The Memorial Hospital Administrator Randy Phelps said the community could use the services of Quorum Health Resources, the firm that manages TMH, to investigate Valley View Manor's financial picture and conduct a study of what the community could do to keep the home.

He estimated it would cost anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000.

All three commissioners were in attendance at the meeting and said they would put the question of whether to provide $10,000 to the effort on the agenda for their Monday meeting.

DeRose said the city council would schedule a special meeting to approve putting its $10,000 toward the study.

In the midst of the discussion on how to move forward, Craig resident Pam Young informed local officials she attended the meeting as a representative of a group of potential buyers interested in taking over management of the home.

Young did not disclose who the potential buyers were but said they already have contacted other management firms and have requested financial information from Mariner Health Care. She asked that the public entities to wait until her group had time to look into the situation, saying it would be pointless to spend tax dollars on the investigation when her group already was doing the same thing.

"Give us a few weeks to look at it," she said. "I would ask that the group allow the private people to move forward without it all getting complicated."

Moffat County Commissioner Marianna Raftopoulos, as well as Phelps had said they would prefer that a private company take on management of the home.

"We want to make sure private interests are honored first before any public solutions are pursued," Phelps said.

But the concern was raised of what would happen if the group Young represented decided it was not economically feasible to buy the home.

Moffat County Commissioner Darryl Steele asked that if the plan fell through that Young share with the public entities the information her group gathered.

Young, however, said the information would be confidential, according to a contract that her group has signed with Mariner Health Care.

The inability to acquire the information from the group, as well as concerns about the Aug. 2 closing date, influenced the officials' decision to go ahead with their own study.

The consensus was if Young's group decided to take over the facility, the city, county and hospital would not stand in its way.

But they would conduct their own study for backup purposes.

While most seemed to agree that a private company had the best chances at making a go of running a nursing home in the community, resident Wes Mcstay, whose mother is in Valley View Manor's Alzheimer's ward, disagreed.

Like James, Mcstay was worried about the stability of the home for his mother's future.

"What's the guarantee that two years down the road another company isn't going to do the same thing this company did?" he asked.

He suggested a community non-profit organization be formed to run the home using volunteer effort and contributions. An effort he said could bring the community together.

"I'll kick in whatever it takes," he said.

Several potential options were discussed in the meeting but many ideas were shot down.

A few of the proposals included:

  • A public/private partnership to keep the home going. But Colorado law does not allow such partnerships.
  • The hospital taking over management. But such an arrangement would impact hospital Medicare revenues because of its recent conversion to critical access status, which makes it eligible for cost-based reimbursements from the federal government for Medicare patients. Taking over care of the home would impact its eligibility for that form of reimbursements, impacting its revenue.
  • Implementation of the Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). Sue Birch, executive director of the VNA, said the program provides care for the elderly in their homes, and has been done successfully in several urban communities. It has yet to be done in a rural community but Birch said there might be a potential that it could be done experimentally in Craig. She told the group that she would continue to investigate the option.

Virginia Bedford with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Valley View Manor is one of four nursing homes to close down in Colorado this year. All but one has been in rural areas.

She said each closure was a result of lack of income in the homes in smaller communities.

"If you don't have enough clients, it's very difficult to run a facility unless you have a corporation that keeps putting money into it," she said.

She said she was skeptical of many of the suggestions made, including a government run nursing home.

She said few local governments run nursing homes in Colorado because they are so expensive to operate.

Lack of time was a concern repeatedly alluded to Wednesday.

Phelps told the group he would approach Mariner Health Care about what it would take for the company to give the community more time to come up with a solution.

But the fact remains that the company is losing $1,700 a day keeping the home open.

It lost $53,000 during the month of May.

Officials said if a solution was on the horizon and they needed more time to implement it, they might entertain reimbursing the company for the money it loses after Aug. 2 if it keeps the home open.

While more research needs to be conducted, most seemed to agree that a nursing home was vital to the community.

Raftopoulos said she has received more calls on this issue than any issues in the past.

Having a nursing home in the community is important, she said.

"This tells people how we take care of our community," she said.

While the public entities plan to move forward with their investigation, Young seemed confident in her group's plans to purchase the home.

She said the investors she spoke on behalf of were from the Front Range and the Western Slope, and said one of the potential investors had a family member in the home. That investor did not want to see that family member moved, she said. She said she was supposed to get the financial numbers from Mariner Health Care today but has yet to receive them.

"The group and entities I'm working with are willing to do whatever we can do," Young said. "We're

committed to keeping it open. But we need to see if it's something we can even move forward with. We can't make a commitment without seeing the financials."

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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