Local government

County court approves relief funds for Pioneer Place

VALE – A lingering request for financial help from the area’s only nursing home was recently approved by the Malheur County Court.
The court voted to earmark $150,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to Pioneer Place in Vale on Aug. 10.
The money will be used to cover some past payroll expenses.
“My recommendation was, let’s try the $150,000 and see if that moves them into a positive cash flow and helps them out,” said Don Hodge, Malheur County commissioner.
Pioneer Place is a government entity providing skilled nursing, assisted living and rehabilitation services. A five-member board of local residents oversees the facility. The building is funded by a local taxing district, but by law the money can’t be used for operating expenses. Pioneer Place employs 70 to 80 people with a payroll of about $2.4 million.
Pioneer Place officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.
They approached the county about Covid relief money late last winter. Then, facility leaders sought $900,000 from the county to offset financial losses triggered by a significant drop in clients.
In January, the skilled nursing census at the facility was 14. Capacity at Pioneer Place is about 29 people in the assisted living portion of the facility and 26 in the skilled nursing portion.

To cover the losses from the low census and other expenses, Pioneer Place drained its emergency fund for $300,000 and took $75,000 from a building fund. The court took no action on the request at that time.
In May, Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge, said Pioneer Place’s request probably wasn’t eligible for federal funds. The county pushed the request to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s office.
In June, Dennis Buttice, chair of the Pioneer Place Board, delivered to the court a three-page document that revealed in detail how the facility’s application was eligible for $750,000 in federal funds.
Pioneer Place planned to use the money for Covid testing along with medical and personal protective equipment. The June request was shelved because the submission contained an incorrect date. In all, Pioneer Place applied five times to the county for Covid relief money. The $150,000 request gained a green light, said Hodge, because the facility’s census rate improved.
“We’d like to give them as much as we could. In my mind we got to keep Pioneer Place open,” said Hodge.The facility may need more money in the future, he said, and the court will be open to review another request.
“Hopefully it will get them over the hump. If it doesn’t, we will look at it again,” said Hodge.
All told, the county received $5.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. The money came in two packages; the first $2.9 million in June 2021, and a second outlay of $2.9 million this June. About $5.3 million of the relief money remains to be allocated.
According to Lorinda DuBois, county administrator, $604,000 of relief money has been distributed.
About $92,000 was spent on cybersecurity.
“It is huge and expensive and due to all of the personal information we hold and all of the cyber attacks that have been happening,” said DuBois.
The cybersecurity upgrade is also required for the county’s insurance coverage, said DuBois. The upgrade included adding surveillance cameras for county facilities.
Other items the county used the money for included a Covid bonus for county employees, remodeling the district attorney’s office, rent for use of the former Vale City Hall for grand jury proceedings and upgrades at Bully Creek Park. Some of the money was also used for upgrades for the county jail.
DuBois said the $150,000 for Pioneer Place will most likely be disbursed within the next few weeks.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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