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An architectural drawing depicts the 26-room,18,670-square feet assisted living/residential care facility scheduled to be built behind Wallowa Memorial Hospital this fall. Drawing submitted by WCHCD
With two years of planning and more than $485,000 already invested, board members of the Wallowa County Health Care District had to face yet another major hike on the price tag for the new residential care/assisted living facility scheduled to open near Wallowa Memorial Hospital this winter.
But with cash reserves in good shape and solid ongoing public support, discussion of the new $825,749 increase was brief and the decision to move forward was, once again, unanimous.
“I don’t think there’s any way to go but forward at this point,” said board member Sue Coleman. “We have the reserves and there is a need. How can we not?”
Earlier estimates for the project had put it in the neighborhood of $4 million, but costs crept steadily up over the course of planning. The guaranteed maximum price for the project now comes in at just under $5.1 million.
“I’m very disappointed in the price; we estimated low,” said Wallowa Memorial CEO Dave Harman.
Harman cited numerous reasons for the price increases, including site location, a protracted planning cycle that meant work on the medical office building and care facility couldn’t occur concurrently, an increase in footprint to meet assisted living facility requirements for dual licensing purposes, costs for retroactive redesign, and a high prevailing wage level due in part to the remote location.
Though Harman cautioned that from a strictly business point of view he’d seriously consider cutting the project, he and several board members immediately acknowledged that the decision had to be made in a broader, community context.
“As a special district we have more than just business to consider — we need to think of the public,” said board member Nick Lunde.
In addition to providing 26 residents with a high-level care facility so that they will not need to leave the county for health reasons, Harman estimates that 22 community jobs are at stake, constituting a significant impact on the local economy.
Given Wallowa County’s preponderance of seniors in its population, board members felt they had a particularly strong responsibility to set up robust elder care options. The choice for dual licensing increased costs and construction requirement, but expanded the facility’s flexibility and upped reimbursement levels from Medicaid.
Since the nursing home run in the old hospital building currently operates at a loss — each month consuming $20,000 to $30,000 in WCHCD cash and incurring an additional $33,000 in Medicare reductions for hospital services used in the facility, according to Harman — keeping it open indefinitely is not an option.
Additionally, the new facility will offer memory care and bariatric services, which the current center cannot.
The health care district will pay $1.65 million in cash for the project, and finance the balance. With levied taxes bringing in roughly $360,000 annually and a projected cash flow of $62,000 after management fees, board members expressed confidence that the facility will function completely as a stand-alone operation.
Groundwork is under way, with construction on the 18,670-square foot building set to begin in September, and a targeted opening in early to mid winter. Portland-based Anderson Construction Co., currently finishing work on the new medical office building adjacent to the hospital will do the job.
Landscaping is projected to cost an additional $50,000, according to an estimate by Eastern Oregon Landscaping.