VALE – The financial warning lights at Pioneer Place in Vale are blinking red, and members of the board that oversees the care center want to gather input from the public to help find a solution.
The five-member Pioneer Place Board will sponsor a town hall session Wednesday, Aug. 16, starting at 6 p.m. at the Vale Senior Center, inviting residents to attend to listen and deliver feedback.
“Financially it is not good and we’ve got to come up with a plan,” said John Nalivka, Pioneer Place board member.
Pioneer Place is a government entity that provides skilled nursing, assisted living and rehabilitation services. The building is funded by a local taxing district but by law that money can’t be used for operating expenses.
Pioneer Place has grappled with funding shortfalls since at least 2019. It was hit especially hard during Covid, when state restrictions compelled Pioneer Place to stop accepting new patients.
To meet the Covid crisis, officials drained Pioneer Place’s emergency fund for $300,000 and pulled another $75,000 from its building fund.
Last year officials sought financial help from the county. The Malheur County Court eventually awarded $150,000 but Pioneer Place officials confirmed the money would only cover one month of payroll expenses.
Pioneer Place employs about 80 people, said Nalivka, with an annual payroll of about $3 million.
Nalivka said the facility is losing about $497,000 a year, or around $40,000 a month.
That kind of financial loss isn’t sustainable, said Nalivka.
“We need to find out if there is a way to cut costs or enhance revenue. It has got to be permanent. It just can’t be a Band-Aid fix. It needs to be something where we make a structural change to the business to do one or the other,” he said.
Pioneer Place faces fixed costs, such as wages and salaries and benefits, and often struggles to find qualified nurses, certified nursing assistants or licensed practical nurses to work in Vale.
That’s because, said Nalivka, trained medical personnel can choose from an array of high-paying jobs across the Treasure Valley, often closer to their home than Vale.
Pioneer Place often must use employment agencies or hire traveling nurses which typically adds to costs, said Nalivka.
“Nearly all of last year our costs for traveling nurses and CNAs (certified nursing assistants) was running, easily, $30,000 a month,” said Nalivka. One glimmer of good news, said Nalivka, was a boost in the reimbursement rate paid by Medicaid for long-term care patients in Oregon. The rate increased from $450 a day to $478 a day. Yet that was offset, he said, by the state’s bed tax, a fee Pioneer Place pays on every occupied bed in the facility.
“That tax went up two dollars a day,” he said.
The bed tax, he said, costs the facility about $170,000 a year.
Nalivka said if Pioneer Place was forced to close its doors it would not only put more than 80 people out of work but also affect other businesses in Vale.
“You take something like Pioneer Place out of this community, it is a big, big hit,” he said.
Malheur Drug, he said, would be one of the main local businesses impacted because it provides a large share of the prescriptions for the patients and residents at the facility.
“There is a significant amount of time and energy we put in toward providing Pioneer Place with the care they require and also filling prescriptions for all of the residents. We have one employee dedicated to do things for Pioneer Place,” said Adam Tolman, owner of Malheur Drug. Tolman is a former member of the Pioneer Place board.
Tolman said the loss of Pioneer Place would be “pretty detrimental.”
“It would put us on the verge of going out of business as well. It would be really bad,” said Tolman.
Tolman said if Pioneer Place closed it would not only hurt his business but other people and entities in the county.
“It would impact the jail because we provide services and then the bigger picture would be the whole county. We provide services to Westfall, Vale, Juntura. It would be scary,” said Tolman.
Nalivka said the aim of the town hall is to get local residents involved in finding solutions.
“We want to get people to come and listen and participate,” he said.
Nalivka said Pioneer Place is a community asset.
“It is a five-star facility and there are not a whole lot of them in Oregon. Given that, we have to come up with something that makes us sustainable,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]
HOW TO SUBSCRIBE – The Malheur Enterprise delivers quality local journalism – fair and accurate. You can read it any hour, any day with a digital subscription. Read it on your phone, your Tablet, your home computer. Click subscribe – $7.50 a month.