State Representative Lynn Findley, R-Vale, meets with community members in downtown Vale on June 22, 2018.

 VALE – The Oregon Department of Human Services will review local nursing home referrals in the wake of a recent meeting in Vale.

The session at Pioneer Place Assisted Living Facility in Vale was organized by state Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale.

Also at the summit were state Sen. Cliff Bentz, the Pioneer Place Nursing Home board and Michael McCormick, deputy director of aging & people with disabilities from the Oregon Department of Human Services.

Findley organized the meeting because the number of state-funded patients sent to Pioneer Place has dropped, creating financial challenges for the care center. Pioneer Place serves the largest geographical area in eastern Oregon. It is the only nursing home in Malheur County. 

“The Medicaid census helps me make payroll and keep the lights on,” said Tom Hathaway, administrator of Pioneer Place.

Hathaway said Pioneer Place needs at least 15 Medicaid nursing home patients per day to maintain services. Last Friday, he said there were eight. 

“A year ago at this time, I had 12,” said Hathaway.

Findley said his research showed the local area has a higher percentage of elderly than the rest of Oregon. Yet, he said, Pioneer Place has only half the state average of state-funded patients. 

“We need to get the census up,” said Findley. “This is an incredible place and they just need to have more referrals. We are below the statewide average and there is no reason why.”

Hathaway said lack of Medicaid patients creates a domino effect that impacts Pioneer Place’s capacity to keep staff. 

Fewer Medicaid patients means less revenue, which in turn impacts the number of skilled staff on duty. Staff members then “migrate to other facilities,” he said.When the number of Medicaid patients goes back up, Pioneer Place encounters problems hiring staff.

Bentz said the challenge was to find out why fewer Medicaid patients were coming to the Vale center.

“It certainly has nothing to do with the quality of care. The quality of care is absolutely excellent,” said Bentz.

Findley recommended that Pioneer Place boost its community outreach and marketing to help increase the number of Medicaid patients. 

Bentz agreed.

“One of the challenges is how best we can educate people who make referrals to places like Pioneer Place and do a better job of educating providers,” said Bentz.

Bentz said McCormick agreed the state would help.

“He understood immediately the issue and the challenge,” said Bentz.

Findley said McCormick agreed to review the referral process to make sure “there was nothing to limit the ability of the census to increase.”

Findley said Pioneer Place, a publicly-owned enterprise, benefits Vale and all of Malheur County.

“It is a huge employer, 60 to 70 people who have good solid wages,” said Findley. “It’s critical for us that we help wherever we can.”

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.