EDITORIAL: County should help Pioneer Place and those who call it home

Officials at Pioneer Place, the Vale nursing home, are working mightily to get their house in order. One of their biggest obstacles is the Malheur County Court. Commissioners should check their almost caustic questioning and help save the region’s only nursing home.

Pioneer Place, like its residents, is aging. According to the new administrator and a revived board, the building is wearing out.

In the past year, Pioneer Place have officials have been focused on another challenge. The pandemic and past poor decisions left the nursing home in the hole. It cost more to run the care center than it was taking in.

Now, these officials report, that has changed. They expect the nursing home to make money this year. That would be quite a reversal from the half-million-dollar loss posted last year.

But those years of financial struggle left Pioneer Place in the circumstance of a lot of homeowners. They can pay the bills for heat and lights but there’s been no money for upkeep.

Last week, the Pioneer Place executives went before the county court. They asked for $1.1 million. For what?

For starters, $30,000 to replace obsolete smoke alarms.

There’s the roof, leaking because of poor design.

And showers for residents need updating.

Anyone listening would have to wonder how anyone could say no to smoke alarms and stopping leaks.

Let Malheur County commissioners know what you think they should do:

Judge Dan Joyce – [email protected]

Commissioner Ron Jacobs – [email protected]

Commissioner Jim Mendiola – [email protected]

Instead, though, county commissioners seemed bent on wagging their fingers at nursing home officials. They wanted answers for past conduct.

They wanted a guarantee the nursing home wouldn’t go out of business. The message seemed to be that, without the guarantee, what’s the use and the facility should close.

They questioned costs, including a crack about “gold plated” sewer lines. That all seemed to suggest without evidence that Pioneer Place officials were incompetent, padding the bills or up to some other skullduggery.

Questioning the use of public money is wise, but the county court’s sudden diligence stands in stark contrast to its dealing with Treasure Valley Reload Center. The county commissioners not long ago agreed to pay off $1.3 million in loans. No one asked where that money had gone, who the checks had been written to.

The county commissioners last year signed off on handing over $2 million for a rail line they told was suddenly essential. The commissioners held no one accountable for that foul-up.

And last summer, they boosted Greg Smith’s compensation by 50 percent despite his apparent mismanagement. Why pay? Because he had the gall to ask. The commissioners didn’t even require any improvement in performance.

Year after year, the county court has handed over public money to this project. The half-done shipping center hasn’t moved a single bag of onions. It hasn’t created a single job. What it has created is a constant drain on public money.

Now comes Pioneer Place. This is a major employer in Vale. This is where many county residents place their aging relatives, confident in the care they will get. This is the only surviving nursing home in the region.

Pioneer Place, indeed, should be accountable. It is a public operation, getting taxpayer money.

The county court can put in place safeguards. It can insist on priorities from Pioneer Place. It can require invoices for every dollar spent.

But at the end of the day, the three county commissioners ought to keep as their priority the grandmothers, aunts and uncles and dear friends who call Pioneer Place home.

These residents don’t deserve the reticence of the county commissioners. They didn’t make the roof leak. They didn’t cause sewer lines to age.

And they certainly don’t deserve to live in a place where smoke alarms are outdated. The Malheur County Court should promptly approve funding to fix that and more. Otherwise, they should explain why neglecting Pioneer Place is good public policy in Malheur County. – LZ