Task force says “no” to the closure of the WRC

By Kynli Smith

Around twenty community members, community leaders, and Wyoming Retirement Center residents and employees met with Rep. Lloyd Larson, R-Lander and the co-chairman of the Joint Legislative – Executive Task Force on Department of Health Facilities, Wednesday at the WRC to discuss concerns about the facility’s future.

Local concern started after the task force meeting at the WRC held in late August.

The task force is supporting option 1A in their November 2014 interim report. 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 the original text, under 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.”

Because of the verbiage in the original report, local residents started a “Save the WRC” mail campaign which allowed residents to write to Wyoming legislators.

“We have no intention to close this facility, turn off the lights and lock the doors,” said Larsen. “We have received a lot of cards calling us to save the WRC.”

The same day Larsen held the meeting at the WRC, the task force issued the following statement:

“The State of Wyoming’s mission in operating its health-related facilities is to provide a safety net for Wyoming citizens. As part of this mission, the State should strive to accommodate citizens who need long-term care but who cannot be accepted into traditional long-term care facilities. The Task Force is considering how the state can provide these services in an economically feasible fashion. While considering the alternatives, the task force will not consider closure of the Wyoming Retirement Center in Basin, although the task force may consider a sale, lease, or transfer of the facility.”

What is the state’s mission?

Larsen gave attendees some background on to why the task force was originally formed a couple of years ago.

According to Larsen, the five state facilities did not have a balanced budget, so an enterprise model for all five facilities was put into place.

“One of the concerns we looked at is if you took this facility and had this as an enterprise model, are you bringing in enough money to cover expenses?” Larsen said. “And the answer was not only no, but it was really no.”

Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, brought up the issue of the mission that was stated in the task force’s memo.

“This facility is right sized for its mission,” Winters said. “The mission is a statewide mission and it is fulfilling part of that mission right now with some of the people who are housed here. Also with the Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement changes that came into effect into July, the facility is paying for itself so it really isn’t putting a drag on the state’s budget. This facility, because of its mission, the question would be why hasn’t it been expanded? The reality is there is going to have to be a facility in the state that would take care of people who are housed here at this facility.”

Larsen said part of the concern the task force and the Department of Health has encountered is that if they take some of the people who fit the safety net criteria at the state hospital and try to decongest the room there, there is not enough staff to accommodate residents from the state hospital.

Because of the recruitment concerns about Basin, but also throughout the state, Larsen said that the Level 1 and Level 2 studies that are being done now are looking at the cost of building a skilled nursing facility like the WRC in Lander.

“Is it fair to say, that I’m not mischaracterizing this by saying the discussion of the other two facilities in Lander and Evanston will have implications on this facility,” Winters said. “There is a concern that the WLRC will to take over the mission that this facility currently holds.”

Larsen agreed with Winters and said that “yes” the two facilities would have implications on WRC.

“If we did not build a skilled nursing facility in Lander would the state keep this open in the future? Yes, but there would be significant changes,” Larsen said. “I imagine the residents in here that don’t fit the safety net criteria would have to find someplace else.”

Concerns of privatization

Many of the locals, WRC residents and employees were thankful that the task force is no longer considering the closing of the WRC, but there are many concerns with the possibility of privatization.

“You said you are looking for someone private to come in and buy this facility, who would that be? Because we all know nursing homes are hard to fund and keep going. Do you have someone interested?” said Selena Brown, the executive director of the Greybull Area Chamber of Commerce.

Larsen said the task force does not have anyone interested at this time that would like to take over operations at the WRC. However, he said there is endless opportunity for whoever would want to take it over, but that will not be for a while.

“If all of the stars aligned and everything was just right, it would be 2019 before you see a shuffle here,” said Larsen.

Others were concerned that if the state were to privatize what would happen to the residents and staff.

“We do appreciate you guys are not going to shut it down but we have nightmares about what will happen if you privatize it,” said WRC employee Cindy Brown “Staffing is hard everywhere, including Lander and Evanston. That is going to help staffing; we have had a trickle of application because of the possibility of closing. But there is huge concern if you privatize it and then you end up with a situation like happened Saratoga and Rock Springs.”

Larsen pointed out that there are many privatized nursing homes that are doing well across the state that are not going under like the ones in Saratoga and Rock Springs. He also pointed out that both nursing homes are doing well after the state managed operations for an interim time before another private nursing home company could come in and take over operations.

“Really what we are asking here is, should the state be providing long-term care for the general public or are we just going to use it as a safety net? That is a policy decision and those are decisions the legislature will make,” Larsen said.

What’s next?

The task force has yet to make its final recommendation to the Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Interim Committee.

Between the five state facilities, there is an intake of about 375 residents.

“The health department does not have the authority to shut this facility down,” Larsen said. “That is a legislative decision so please come to us with concerns. The task force has been charged with making a recommendation back to the labor and health committee by June on the WRC, but we may make a recommendation as early as January or February.”

Some residents voiced concern over the transparency of the task force.

“I think you have been very secretive about these meetings,” said Basin Area Chamber President Barbara Anne Greene. “Most of us didn’t know about the Dec. 1 meeting in Cheyenne. I lived in D.C for five years and I’m shocked at the lack of transparency this task force has had.”

Larsen said that the information on when the task force meets is on the legislative website.

“We have tried to make it as transparent as we can and will continue to do so,” Larsen said.

Many locals who attended the meeting plan on contacting legislators throughout the state urging them not to privatize the WRC.