Business & economy, In the community

Still grappling with money woes, Pioneer Place officials will seek more funding from the county

VALE – Pioneer Place officials said last week they plan to go to the Malheur County Court again to seek more money just weeks after the court provided a $150,000 grant to the nursing and skilled care facility.
The $150,000, while welcome, won’t solve the facility’s long-term financial challenges, said John Nalivka, Pioneer Place board member.
“When you are there and trying to get the county to help, you don’t want to say, ‘keep your $150,000’ but we will have to have the county help us through this deal,” said Nalivka.
Nalivka said the publicly-owned care center needs a total of $900,000 in emergency county help.
Dan Joyce, Malheur County judge, said the expectation from the beginning was that Pioneer Place officials would come back to seek more financial assistance. Joyce said the initial $150,000 outlay is a “starting point.”
Whether the county will agree to give more is “a good question,” said Joyce.
Katie Braniff, the business office manager at Pioneer Place, said the $150,000 from the county will cover just two weeks of payroll.
“We are grateful but it is not enough,” said Braniff.
Nalivka said Pioneer Place faces challenges regarding hiring and retaining staff, minimum wage hikes dictated by the state, a resident count that fluctuates and inflation.
Corey Crismon, Pioneer Place administrator, said the facility can’t compete with hospitals regarding wages.
“If we drop labor (to cut costs) we potentially compromise the care of the residents. If we have a registered nurse leave its almost impossible to fill,” said Crismon.
Nalivka agreed.
“We are not an easy draw. It is so much easier for an RN to work at a hospital,” said Nalivka.
Don Hodge, Malheur County commissioner, said if Pioneer Place officials return to ask for money the county will “see what we can do.”
“If we can help them we will. We have to look at it on an individual basis. We only have a certain amount of money. Our well isn’t that deep,” said Hodge.
Last week, said Nalivka, Pioneer Place’s census stood at 16 people on its skilled nursing department and 29 on its assisted living portion of the facility.
Nalivka said for the facility to break even in terms of cost it must have 19 people in its skilled nursing section.
The local nursing home began to run into financial trouble last year when Covid restrictions forced officials to stop accepting new patients.
“If you get Covid in the building you shut down,” said Crismon.
The Covid crisis then sparked a domino effect in terms of costs and forced the facility to drain its emergency fund for $300,000 and then pull $75,000 from its building fund.
Pioneer Place officials approached the court last winter with a request for $900,000 and then lowered the number to $750,000.
The county court took no action on the first $900,000 request because officials did not believe the facility was eligible for federal Covd relief funds.
In June, Pioneer Place officials returned to the court with a revised request for $750,000 but the commission declined the the submission because of an incorrect date on the application.
In all, Pioneer Place applied five times to the county for a share of federal money provided to the county for Covid relief.
The county received $5.9 million and about $5.3 million is still unallocated.
“Hodge said we could come back. We are going to take him up on that,” said Nalivka.

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

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