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County wants more information before it earmarks cash for Pioneer Place

VALE – Pioneer Place will not receive any money from the county until it hands over more information regarding its needs, according to the county official designated to work with the team from the facility regarding a $1.1 million request.

Malheur County Commissioner Jim Mendiola said last week no one from Pioneer Place has reached to him about the funding request.

“They are not going to get anything from us until we get more details. Until I get a phone call from them I can’t help them,” said Mendiola.

Mendiola was selected by Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce recently to convene with Pioneer Place officials to review pricing on repair projects and to establish whether the Vale nursing facility can sustain itself.

John Nalivka, Pioneer Place board member, said facility officials plan to meet with Mendiola soon.

Pioneer Place administrator Corey Crismon has asked the Malheur County Court for money to complete a long list of building projects, including a new roof, new rooftop air conditioners, a kitchen renovation and sewer upgrade. The county is sitting on more than $9 million in extra federal funds but county officials have made it clear they intend to spend some of that cash on the county’s own needs.

Pioneer Place officials faced some tough questions from the court at the meeting. Commissioner Ron Jacobs pointed out Pioneer Place struggled with low occupancy rates in the past. That, he said, was a “big concern for us.”

Nalivka said it will be important for Mendiola to visit Pioneer Place to see the need for the money.

“He needs to go through the roof and sewer line situation and the kitchen and have a look at them,” said Nalivka.

Mendiola said he believes Pioneer Place officials need to “tighten their belts.”

“We are trying to make sure whatever money we have to help them won’t be squandered,” said Mendiola.

Mendiola said Pioneer Place may need to look at trimming its staff to cut costs.

Nalivka said cutting Pioneer Place staff isn’t practical if the Vale center is to provide top-level skilled service.

Nalivka said the facility holds a five-star rating from the federal government for its service.

“Five stars is the best. You just don’t go from five star to three stars. That involves a lot more than just dropping employees. Once you do that a whole lot of other state regulations come into play and you don’t get enough money from Medicare or Medicaid,” he said.

Crismon said the facility has already cut staff.

He said Pioneer Place will record $300,000 less in salary and wages this year than in 2022.

“We are watching all of our expenses,” he said.

Mendiola also said he was confused as to why Pioneer Place did not apply for federal Covid relief money to help with its funding woes.

Nalivka said the facility did apply and receive Covid relief funds. He said the facility received $900,000 over “last couple of months.”
“Obviously that helps,” he said.

Nalivka also said finances at Pioneer Place are improving.

“Over the last two months we have actually been in the black,” he said.

Nalivka said Pioneer Place officials are also contemplating raising fees for private pay residents.

“Most assisted living facilities, for private pay, charge $6,000 a month. We’ve been charging $4,600. We are working in the direction of $6,000 a month. We’ve already brought it up to $5,000 a month,” he said.

Nalivka said he was frustrated with the tenor of the questions at the Sept. 20 meeting.

“I am kind of tired of playing cat and mouse. It seems to me so obvious when there is infrastructure money available. We are not trying to cheat anybody,” said Nalivka.

Mendiola said it is the job of the court to ask tough questions regarding proposed funding outlays. He also indicated the $1.1 million request wasn’t set in stone.

“Just because you ask Santa for it doesn’t mean you’re going to get it from Santa,” he said.

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

Previous coverage:

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

Crowd packs Pioneer Place session, hears of ideas to save operation from closure