Wednesday, May 22, 2013

AG issues ruling in Blaine Manor dispute

Both sides glean hints of support from state’s opinion

Express Staff Writer

    Spokesmen for the Committee to Save Blaine Manor say the group will continue with its effort to stop Blaine County from negotiating with Safe Haven Health Care despite an opinion from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office stating that the county has the right to do so.
    The county commissioners decided by a 2-to-1 vote in February to contract with the Pocatello-based company to take over operation of Blaine Manor, including transfer of its skilled-nursing-facilities license and Medicare/Medicaid certification, until Safe Haven can move those patients to its planned new facility in Bellevue by 2014.
    Despite its conclusion that the county commissioners can direct county staff to negotiate with Safe Haven over county-owned property, Deputy Attorney General Brett DeLange’s opinion, dated May 15, goes on to say that “[w]hether the Commissioners have authority to execute a service agreement with Safe Haven Health Care is unknown given the Attorney General’s limited knowledge of the proposed final transaction between Blaine County and Safe Haven Health Care.”
    The opinion, requested by state Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, and state Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, also addresses the question of whether the Blaine County Hospital Board, which preceded the Blaine Manor board of trustees, remains in existence. The Committee to Save Blaine Manor contends that it does and that any actions taken to transfer Blaine Manor’s assets without that board’s assent are void.
    The opinion states that under state law, a county hospital board continues in existence until the voters elect to discontinue it.
    “[W]e have not seen any documentation indicating that the Blaine County electorate has ever voted to dissolve the Hospital Board,” the opinion states. “ … It appears, therefore, that the Hospital Board, while currently nonfunctioning, has not been dissolved.”
    The opinion did not directly address the question of whether the board’s continued existence restricts the county’s authority to make decisions regarding Blaine Manor. County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves said nothing in the opinion indicates to him that the county should depart from its current path of negotiation with Safe Haven.
    However, Jim Laski, the Committee to Save Blaine Manor’s attorney, said the opinion “puts into question, without answering the question, as to whether the county has the legal authority to transfer the assets of Blaine Manor without an election.”
     Laski contended that Blaine Manor’s license is owned by Blaine Manor, not by Blaine County. Blaine Manor Administrator Gail Goglia said the license is in the name of Blaine Manor, but county Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves contended that all assets of Blaine Manor are owned by Blaine County.
    Tom Rheinvault, the committee’s secretary-treasurer, acknowledged that “some of this stuff will have to be finally determined by a judge, and we are ready to take this in front of a judge.”
    Rheinvault, a 10-year resident of Hailey who previously worked as a residential developer and a city manager, said the group intends to seek a court injunction to prohibit the county from conducting further negotiations with Safe Have Health Care.
    He said the committee’s goal is to force an election in November so that voters can determine whether the hospital board—and Blaine Manor—should continue to exist. He said the group would like to see a vote on a proposed tax levy to allow Blaine Manor to continue to exist.
    “We would like to see Blaine Manor politically independent,” he said. “It can be self-supporting.”
    Committee President Donna Alfs said the group wants to “keep four-star, not-for-profit senior care in the valley and allow the people to vote.”
Greg Moore:

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