Wallowa County needs long-term care center

By Observer editorial April 13, 2011 10:04 am
Sure, a recession is on, and it’s tempting to vote no on everything that will raises taxes — or have the perception of raising taxes. Perhaps it was just such a misunderstanding that led to Wallowa County voters turning down a tax levy that would have built a new nursing home. The perception may have been that it was a new tax. The truth is that the proposed levy is not a new tax but replaces an existing one that supported the old nursing home and is set to expire June 30.

Now voters will have a second chance to do the right thing. The tax option to raise capital for a new residential care facility in Wallowa County is on the May 17 ballot. If it doesn’t pass, the Wallowa Valley Care Center, the county’s only nursing home, will close June 30. That’s right, close its doors. If the tax option passes, the care center will remain open until a new facility is completed.

The bottom line is this: Should the levy pass, taxes would actually decrease from 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to 67 cents per $1,000, according to the Long Term Care Political Action Committee set up to educate the public about the need for the new facility. Tax bills would actually decrease.

The need for nursing home care in Wallowa County is urgent — and heart-rending. If the nursing home closes down, elders needing nursing care would have to leave the county. People who have lived here all their lives, who have helped build the county with their own sweat and blood, would have to be relocated to La Grande, Walla Walla or places even farther away.

That’s distressing. It would put an undue burden on families trying to stay in touch with their elders needing long-term nursing care. Instead of being able to go every day to visit a husband suffering from Alzheimer’s, for example, maybe an elderly wife would only be able to make the 75-mile or more trip once a week. Or even less often. And when weather gets bad, they would be taking their life into their own hands to make such a visit.

The care center is also important to the Wallowa County economy. If the nursing home closes, 45 jobs will be lost. A county with a near-12 percent unemployment rate doesn’t need another major hit.

Some people say why not just fix up the old nursing home. But that’s not an option. Cost of renovating the existing care center would be exorbitant, Wallowa Valley Health Care District CEO Dave Harman said.

The new care center, Harman said, would have other benefits. For one, it would have more privacy and comfort for residents. It would also be up to current code and include rooms for people with Alzheimer’s, dementia or bariatric issues. What’s more, Harman said, the new 24-bed facility would be less expensive to run on a day-to-day basis.

Having a nursing home in Wallowa County is important for attracting and retaining businesses and residents. But more importantly, it’s important for keeping families together, and giving our elderly the dignity they deserve in their golden years.