Task force plans for WRC still a mystery

Kynli Smith

Community members, residents, employees and legislators expressed their concern and confusion about the plans of the Joint Legislative-Executive Task Force on Department of Health Facilities and how they would affect the Wyoming Retirement Center during a task force meeting on Thursday.

The task force started the meeting with an executive session where they reviewed bids for a contractor and agriculture firm to perform level one and two studies that will address the issues of the Wyoming State Hospital and the Wyoming Retirement Center.

According to task force chairman, Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, the task force selected architectural firm of HOK formally known as Hellmuth, Obata, & Kassabaum of St. Louis. Larsen said in an email after the meeting that “the amount of the contract hasn’t been released yet; the state and HOK are working out a few of the loose ends.”

State Rep. Tim Stubson, R-Casper, a member of the task force, tried to address the confusion caused by the executive session.

“One thing that is important about the decision we just made on the level one and level two is that it only deals with the Life Resource Center and the State Hospital, because under the options 1a and 1b, either with the chances need to be made to those facilities,” Stubson said. “It doesn’t set us on a course one way or the other with the other state facilities.”

No decision has officially been made on the fate of the WRC. The firm selected by the task force on Thursday will need to be present its proposals to the task force by Jan. 4, 2016.

After the executive session, members of the task force heard public comments from WRC residents and employees, community members and legislators on their concerns for the WRC.

Fighting for their home

Two WRC residents and an employee attended the meeting to express their concerns with the task force regarding what will happen to the WRC.

One resident, Shirley Elliott, who credits being able to walk to the help she received at the WRC, reminded members of the task force that they are responsible.

“This is my home and this is the home of every single resident,” Elliot said during the meeting. “Look what it will cost to be able to move. We have to leave it in your hands. Every one of you will be responsible,”

Another resident, Wayne Wright, asked the task force what would happen to him and his friends at the WRC.

“What are you going to do with me,” Wright asked. “Where will I go? This is my home; I have nowhere else to go.”

Wright also added in his statement to the task force, “You talk about your prison systems. You have to house them, you have to give them medical care and they’re a burden on society. You have to take care of them. Are you saying that we’re not as good as people who break the law?”

He also added that state should start to revaluate priorities for those who need mental health care. “I feel violated. I feel disgraced. I feel like you people don’t think I’m worth a s— and I am. I’m a human being. It’s not my fault I’m bipolar and hurt myself. If I was on the street I would be dead in a month.”

Carolyn Johnson, the director of nursing at the WRC, also attended the meeting to voice her concern for her residents and employees.

Johnson is also a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

“I came in as DON here 10 years ago we have had a lot and have taken a lot of psychiatric patients. We tried using psychiatrists in Cody. But they never got to know our residents. It was difficult to treat them. So I went back to school (to become a) psychiatric nurse practitioner. Since then we have not had to send a resident out of this building. We were able to treat them here. Most of the residents on south will be discharged if this is privatized because they are expensive.”

Concern from community

Community members and local, county and state government leaders attended the meeting to express their concern on the plans for the WRC.

Doug Crouse of Basin attended the meeting to express his concern and confusion over the plans the task force has.

“It’s starting to sound like choosing contractor and architect at this point to go forward with state money the decision has nearly been made to go with 1a. That seems to be the concern of locals, that the legislator have made that decision to go forward with 1a.”

Rep. Stub added to Crouse’s comments that he is correct in thinking that, but there are more options still at play.

“You are correct. In the point that the legislature in the budget footnote of last year directed the committee to a level 1 and 2 study recommend by task force that was consistent with 1a.”

However after the studies are complete nothing will happen until new changes are voted on in the Legislature.

Big Horn County Commissioner Jerry Ewen expressed concern over the 1a option and if the WRC is privatized or closed.

“There is no intent to close this facility; that has never been a discussion to close this facility,” Rep. Larsen said.

However Ewen said in the report the language of option 1a states the WRC will be privatized or closed.

“There is a perception that the decision has been made that the WRC will be privatized or closed. In looking at this pamphlet it defiantly says that in 1a.”

Basin Town Councilman Phil Julliard also joined in on the conversation at the task force meeting.

“I just hate to see you guys privatize this thing because I think we spend a lot of money in this state. I’ve been in politics for 36 years here, with the council and mayor and so forth and I’ve been all over the state and I see what’s going on and I think that we can afford to pay and keep this thing open,” Julliard said. “I think the people in this state deserve to have a facility where they can come.”

Local state Reps. Nathan Winters and Mike Geear and state Sen. Gerald Geis also attended the task force meeting to express their concerns with the WRC.

“We talk about how excellent the facility is here and everything seems to hinge on the fact that there are recruitment issues but we don’t know yet if there are recruitment issues in Lander. I do know that whenever we look at skilled care across the state, not just in this facility but other facilities, other hospitals, there are recruiting issues. So it’s not just endemic to this facility, I would say, and so that’s one of the points I wanted to ask you about,” Winters said.

According to the American Association of Colleges in Nursing’s website, the United States Registered Nurse Workforce Report Card and Shortage Forecast published in the January 2012 issue of the American Journal of Medical Quality, stated “a shortage of registered nurses is projected to spread across the country between 2009 and 2030.  In this state-by-state analysis, the authors forecast the RN shortage to be most intense in the South and the West.”

Knowing the options

No decision has been made on the WRC, according to the task force. The level one and level two studies the task force plans will help with the holes in their options, especially option 1a.

According to the task force report, Option 1a, which ranked number one in order preference by the Task Force, would integrate acute, intermediate and long-term care at the Wyoming State Hospital and the Wyoming Life and Resource Center.  In this option the Wyoming Retirement Center would be privatized or closed.

Option 1a ranked second in estimated cost savings and listed the estimated capital requirements as “to be determined.”

In option 1B all facilities would work together to treat populations requiring acute, intermediate or long-term care, according to the report.

The report stated that, “The Wyoming State Hospital would focus on acute crisis stabilization, the Wyoming Life and Resource Center would focus on intermediate care and the Wyoming Retirement Center would focus on long-term care. Option 1B ranked second in the order of preference by the task force, ranked third in estimated cost savings and estimated capital requirements were $113 million.

Option 2 is the “status quo” according to the report. The option would implement the upgrades and address the construction requirements.  It was ranked third in the task force’s preference; ranked fourth in estimated cost savings and had an estimated capital requirement of $113 million.

Option 3 is the “one facility” option. According to the task’s force report Option 3 would be “the most drastic.” All three facilities would close and a new facility would be constructed with a consolidated campus and multiple licensures. It ranked last in preference, but ranked first in estimated cost savings. The estimated capital requirements were listed as $90 million.

The task force will have until January to finalize its recommendations and options and will present those ideas to the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee. The committee will then vote and recommend options and ideas to the state legislature.  No major changes in current police and legislation will occur until after the state legislature votes on the committee’s recommendation.