New facility caring for Wallowa County seniors

October 04, 2013 10:42 am
Enterprise — The Wallowa Valley Senior Living Center and Memory Care opened in June caring for some of the county’s most at need elderly.

More than four years ago the Wallowa Valley Health Care District and its board of directors were faced with closing the Wallowa Valley Care Center, woefully in need of maintenance and costing the District hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“The district knew it was going to close the old facility, operated for 20 years or more at a deficit,” District CEO Dave Harman said.

Harman said the most the district lost in one year was $850,000.

“It’s been a combination of cash loss of operation and imputed loss,” Harman said, “and it was costing us a small fortune just to keep it going.”

He went on to say that the Wallowa Memorial Hospital is reimbursed by Medicare to the tune of 60 percent annually because it is a critical access facility. However, the care center was not covered by Medicare.

The former care center and the newly opened Senior Living Center accept both private pay and Medicaid residents. Harman has said, and been quoted by the Observer, that no matter what, the care center would be closed, whether a new facility was built or not.

The care center was funded in part by a levy passed by Wallowa County voters, but when another levy was presented for a bond to pay for a new facility over 10 years, it was voted down. An effort by community members and district staff flipped that vote to an overwhelming majority and it passed, paving ground for a residential facility to replace the industrial one, hampered financially by federal regulations and deferred maintenance.

Harman said the district went to a residential care model to not only cut costs, but because “the state has made a big effort to push people from nursing home kind of care to residential.”

“I inherited this in 2007 together with former directors Sue Coppin and later Tricia Grant, and now Glenda Cummins. We looked at this model because the board said, ‘If we can, we’d like to offer some kind of senior care.’”

Harman said Coppin came up with a super model of residential care to take care of more “higher acuity” residents — or those with the greatest care needs.

“We provide a similar level of care as the nursing home, but there are some things we can’t do like tube feeding. One day we may be able to do that, but it all depends on what mix we have in the building,” Cummins said. 

The mix to which she referred is among the highest and lowest needs residents. They range from a scale from 1 to 5, with five being patients with the greatest needs. “The people who want in here are at levels 4 and 5 and you can have only so many as with the other facility,” she said.

Cummins said this is due to the level of staffing at any given time. She added that the average age of the center’s residents is older than 90 with 13 of the 20 who are that age.

The other advantage of the new facility is the dedicated memory unit, which the nursing home did not have. The wing is fully locked with keypad entries to the rest of the building and to the outside. Those residents have their own secure courtyard, as well.

“This building is built on a social model. The part I love is when I walk into memory care, residents are sleeping on the couch. It warms my heart — this is their home,” Cummins said. 

All 21 residents living in the former care center were moved to the new building over the course of three days in June, including Jim Buckles, who suffered a stroke several years ago after he and his wife, Francis, retired in Wallowa County.

Francis Buckles said she visits every day with their two black labs, and Jim Buckles goes home with her for Sunday dinners.

Bernadine Miller’s husband, Jerry, has suffered several strokes and lives at the new center. “Jerry loves it here. I come at least once a week. It’s a beautiful place. I love the courtyard, and Jerry likes that too,” she said.

Cummins said the senior living center has capacity for 17 and has one empty room, and the memory care side has the capability to house 10 and now has six residents. The care center at one time had space for 32 residents, but Harman said the state had knocked them down to only accepting 25.

She said she has 48 employees on staff and is still hiring. 

“We have more employees per patient here than the other facility. In memory, we have one care giver for two residents part of the day,” Cummins said.