Pioneer Home rates to increase

Ketchikan Pioneer Home’s administrative director, Julie Sande, has been around the home long enough to see various rate increases. Sande was a social worker when the first big rate increase was implemented, when residents went from paying $700 a month to $1,500 a month.

“It was a tremendous jump and was very painful,” Sande says. “There was a lot of pride involved with the residents being on a fixed income and expecting set projected prices.”

The state’s six Pioneer Homes serve over 400 Alaska seniors, according to the Division of Alaska Pioneer Homes in December 2014, providing three service levels for Alaska residents 65 years and older. Level 1 includes basic care such as housing, meals and recreational activities. Level 2 includes level 1 and additional health assistance during the day, and level 3 includes levels 1 and 2 and 24 hour hands-on assistance. According to the Alaska Pioneer Homes website, as of January 2016 each level costs $2,350, $4,260, and $6,170 a month, respectively.

Starting February 1, the Pioneer Homes will be implementing a rate increase of 8.5 percent. Unlike past increases, says Sande, this one was expected.

“The latest increase is long overdue,” she says. “We haven’t had a rate increase since 2009, and as the Social Security Administration’s Cost of Living Adjustments increase, the home’s rates have to increase.”

However, residents only have to pay for a portion of the actual cost of care, she adds.

“Even after this year’s increase, residents in the payment assistance program won’t be affected,” says Sande. “Private paying residents will mainly feel the increase in costs, but they’re only paying 60 percent of what it actually costs to care for them.”

The Alaska Pioneer Homes sent out a division wide notice about the increase in August, and there’s been discussion since then, says Sande.

“Overall, it’s been a very public process. Residents are in a better situation to understand the state budget situation and that they need to help pay for their care. At this point, they really expected it.”

Protesting hardship

In Anchorage, the city’s Pioneer Home residents have fought the expected increase.

“When you have a fixed income, only a certain amount of your income is allocated for housing and other expenses. Having to pay $200 to $600 more per month than what you planned for is devastating,” says Dianne Boyer, president of the Anchorage Pioneer Home’s resident council.

According to Boyer, the 8.5 percent increase comes from a combination of the rate increases that weren’t implemented over the last six years. The new rates will add $199.75 per month for level 1 care, $369.75 per month for level 2 care and $539.75 per month for level 3 care.

“Most people have the feeling that we’re spoiled, but we’re not. We’ve worked all our lives and are pioneers of Alaska. We have people here that are over 100, and 80 percent of the residents are over 80 years old,” she adds.

Boyer wrote a letter to Senator Johnny Ellis and Representative Les Gara suggesting an increase of 2.125 percent per year for four years instead of the 8.5 percent increase in one year. In September 2015, Gara responded by visiting the Anchorage Pioneer Home and reviewed the home’s budget, and soon after teamed up with Ellis to write another letter containing Boyer’s suggestions to the acting director of the Alaska Pioneer Homes on behalf of Boyer and the Anchorage Pioneer Home’s resident council.

In addition, residents also sent individual statements protesting the increase to Juneau.

“We had 40 residents at the time fill out the form and write letters to Juneau,” says Boyer.

Residents also participated in a teleconference hosted by the Alaska Commission on Aging. The acting director of the Pioneer Homes responded and said they received and would review the Anchorage home’s suggestions, says Boyer.

However, the rates will increase either way.

“The residents of the Anchorage Pioneer Home stood together and did as much as we could to oppose the budget cuts,” says Boyer. “We’re okay. We don’t have a choice. We have to be okay with it. Rate increases happen. It’s part of life. It’s going to start (on February 1). You have to pick your battles, and this is one we lost.”

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