Editorial: Working together, community can keep Pioneer Place serving Malheur County

The recent public session about Pioneer Place should galvanize the community – and the Malheur County Court – to act. Closing this vital community asset would harm people needing health care, the employees and the local economy. Solutions are out there.

The board of Pioneer Place should get credit for holding the session. Too often, government entities disguise if not hide bad news. Treasure Valley Reload Center, anyone? Here, the board of local citizens concluded candor was the best approach.

That more than 200 people showed up on a simmering summer night shows the board made the right call. The crowd listened attentively to briefings and asked good questions.

Here’s the circumstance.

Pioneer Place is now the only nursing home in southeast Oregon. In Lakeview, the lights have gone out on Lakeview Gardens. That means no care home in all of Lake County and none in Harney County. In Lakeview, the nearest center is in Klamath Falls – and it’s full. Officials scout as far as Salem and Portland to find openings.

That’s a key value of Pioneer Place in Vale – proximity. Families can trust relatives to care there and be close enough for visits and events. Imagine the strain of driving to Bend, Portland or Boise instead.

The need for services provided by Pioneer Place will only grow. We are an aging population in Malheur County. More people are getting to the point when assisted living and nursing care, like that at Pioneer Place, are a must. Remember, too, that Pioneer Place is the venue for those who need temporary restorative care after surgery or a medical crisis. In short, Pioneer Place has a role in serving an increasing number of Malheur County residents.

There is another practical value to the community. In Vale, Pioneer Place is a major employer, issuing paychecks to about 80 workers every month. That adds up to about $3 million a year that then can be spent in grocery stores, restaurants, tire shops and more. City and county officials would have to work mighty hard to replace those 80 jobs.

The problem for Pioneer Place is money. The Vale operation doesn’t have enough clients. The costs are climbing. Competition is fierce for the kind of skilled help needed to staff Pioneer Place. 

The session in Vale set the stage for possible solutions.

One involves the building itself. Administrators say they have a “to do” list of $1.2 million in work needed to repair and upgrade Pioneer Place. As attorney Bob Butler noted, bake sales won’t fix it.

This maintenance challenge could be erased in a single moment. The Malheur County Court could – and should – award $1.2 million to fix the building. It has the money. The court so far has largely turned a cold shoulder to Pioneer Place. That must change. Investing in Pioneer Place on behalf of all the people of Malheur County is the right thing to do.

The Pioneer Place board should prepare a pitch for that money. They should invite their supporters to show up as well. County commissioners need to know with no doubt that fixing Pioneer Place is important to their constituents.

As that is done, the county commissioners and officials in Vale, Nyssa and Ontario city governments should convene to consider new taxing authority for Pioneer Place. Those in the audience rightly were puzzled why only property owners in the Vale area are taxed to support Pioneer Place. The Pioneer Place board should outline the benefits of having the entire county support this operation. And then it should map out how to get an expansion on a ballot – and soon.

While those actions are pending, Pioneer Place officials ought to answer another question from the public session: How can volunteers help? Are there modest repair projects that a contractor or two might take on? Are there ways for citizens to help with events and services that would free paid staff to focus on medical care?

Finally, Pioneer Place should assess its marketing. It has bed space to sell, so to speak. Putting more people in those beds would ease the financial strain. That won’t happen just because the “Open” sign is on.

The community made clear its passion for Pioneer Place. That passion should be rewarded with continued candor by the Pioneer Place board, action by the Malheur County Court, and a continued rallying call to save Pioneer Place from closure. – LZ

SUPPORT OUR WORK – 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.