Robert’s Rules of Order were dispensed with Tuesday when members of the public accused the Blaine County commissioners of ignoring their pleas for a levy vote to support Blaine Manor.
The commissioners met to sign a resolution stating the board’s intent to sign a contract for service with Safe Haven Health Care, a Pocatello-based organization that intends to take over operation of Blaine Manor beginning in October until it can provide assisted living and skilled nursing care to seniors in a facility in Bellevue.
The commissioners voted on the issue in February, choosing Safe Haven’s approach over proposals from Pocatello-based TanaBell Health Services and locally based Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation. Safe Haven’s proposal was the only one that did not require a levy or public funding—TanaBell and Croy Canyon Ranch would have required about $6 million and $18.5 million, respectively.
But discussions regarding language of the resolution to contract with Safe Haven were disrupted by public outcry when Commissioner Larry Schoen opened the meeting for comment.
Ketchum resident Donna Alfs began by informing the board that she had collected 585 signatures in four days on a petition asking the commissioners to extend the current levy subsidizing Blaine Manor’s operating losses. The levy expires at the end of September.
“Serving and providing these services to the elderly and vulnerable of our County is no less important that (sic) the bonds previously voted on by the community include (sic) the County Correctional Facility, the Blaine County Schools and more recently, the planned Wood River Trails levy,” the petition states. “This decision should be up to the people.”
Hailey resident Tom Rhinevault said he spent Monday collecting signatures from other Hailey residents, gathering 149 signatures in just three and a half hours.
“One person said, ‘I wouldn’t send my dog to Safe Haven,’” he said.
His comments were cut short by Schoen, who interrupted Rhinevault as he began to read the Medicare star ratings, a system that ranks the quality of senior care facilities. Most recent Medicare ratings give Blaine Manor four out of five stars for overall quality; Safe Haven’s only skilled nursing facility, located in Pocatello, is given one star of five because of a missing “staffing” score.
Schoen said the commissioners were well aware of the Medicare star ratings when they made their decision. The Idaho Mountain Express reported on a discussion of those star ratings in April 2012, and at the time Safe Haven CEO Scott Burpee stated that the low star rating was due to a severe drop in the state funding that that particular facility depended on.
“We’ve gone over a lot of this material,” Schoen said Tuesday, following more public comment along the lines of Rhinevault’s. “We’ve had over a year’s time, we’ve discussed the ratings, we’ve discussed the Medicare website, we’ve discussed the levy and the other options available to the board. The decision has been made.”
Sun Valley resident Stella Gray said the public was not well informed during the decision-making process, and that the decision to choose Safe Haven felt rushed and “railroaded.”
“Maybe [the public] was asleep at the wheel, but they’re here now,” she said.
Schoen then closed public comment, prompting more outcry from those in attendance, who shouted “that’s convenient,” “another railroad” and “What are you afraid of?” over the sound of the gavel.
“I’m not afraid of anything,” he said. “The public has had ample time to raise all of these issues, and the board has had time to discuss these issues.”
The deadline for placing a levy vote on the May ballot passed in March, and the earliest the county commissioners could place a levy on the ballot would be November, the proceeds of which would be collected after the fiscal 2015 levy is set in September 2014.
That leaves a gap of more than a year between the end of the current levy in September 2013 and the earliest that tax revenue from a new levy could be collected, December 2014.
Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves told members of the public that they had a few legal options regarding weighing a levy: The public could form a hospital district to support a nursing home or petition for a bond for construction of a county hospital, which could be a nursing home.
Neither option, he said, should interfere with the county’s contracting with Safe Haven Health Care to take over the operations and license of Blaine Manor in October.
The board voted unanimously to approve the resolution to contract for service with Safe Haven, over audible grumbling from members of the public.
Commissioner Angenie McCleary said that even though she did not agree with the board’s decision to contract with Safe Haven, she signed the resolution because the other members of the board were not willing to reconsider and she agreed with the resolution’s statements of what the board expects to see in an eventual contract.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter for Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation Executive Director Kathleen Eder and Campaign Chair Anita McCann, both of whom expressed frustration with the commissioners while leaving the courthouse on Tuesday.
“It’s not over,” McCann said.
Kate Wutz: email@example.com
The debate over skilled nursing has spanned more than a year, and the Blaine County commissioners have discussed a levy to support Blaine Manor since February 2012. For more information on these discussions, search “Wutz senior care levy” on our website, www.mtexpress.com.