Longer waitlists for state's Pioneer Home facilities

With more budget cuts from the state forcing the loss of numerous staff positions, the state’s Pioneer Homes assisted living facilities have begun to further limit the number of residents the homes are able to receive. Vickie Wilson, director of the Alaska Pioneer Homes, believes that reducing the number of new residents will allow the remaining staff to give the quality and level of care the homes are known for.

“We won’t risk safety or quality by admitting too many people, and I’ve told many people that,” said Wilson. “Our level of care is what makes us the Pioneer Homes.”

Last February, Wilson and Jessica Bogard, Administrative Operations Manager II for the Division of Alaska Pioneer Homes, met with the House Finance for the Dept. of Health and Social Services Budget Subcommittee in Juneau to discuss the potential for privatization and budget cuts for 2016 and 2017.

Privatization was pulled from that discussion, “it has nothing to do with the current position cuts,” Wilson said. “We did state that we were going to put out a request for proposal for a study (on privatizing the homes) last February, but no variable contractor came forward to conduct the study either times the review was put out. The applicants that did respond didn’t meet the basic requirements that were set forth, so we weren’t able to complete the study for the homes to be put up for privatization. However, the pharmacy could still be privatized as a way to cut costs.”

According to a PowerPoint presentation provided by Wilson and Bogard, after the budget cuts for the 2016 fiscal year, two full time management positions, 17 positions within the homes and various services and commodities have been cut. The projected budget cuts for the 2017 fiscal year will continue to reduce the homes’ staffing levels and cause longer wait times for admissions due to the reduced bed count.

“Cuts have been happening in the last two years,” added Wilson. “When we were preparing our budgets with the state, we saw that we were going to be losing staff. We knew we couldn’t admit more residents, so we made the decision to reduce the number of residents that we are able to care for.”

As explained by Diane Boyer, president of the resident council at the Anchorage Pioneer Home, in an interview with Senior Voice last February, the homes provide three different types of care.

“A level 1 means that you are able to do 100 percent of the work on your own. A level 2 means that you are able to do 75 percent of the work on your own. You just basically need help with making your bed or taking medications, little things like that,” stated Boyer. “A level 3 means that you can do 25 percent of the work on your own, and you need help with the remaining 75 percent.”

According to Boyer, most other assisted living homes across the state and in the rest of the Lower 48 only do memory care or extra medical care, not both, and the level 3’s that need the extra medical care would normally be considered for a nursing home.

“I’ve had the occasion to see other assisted living homes, and their employees don’t give their residents the same level of care as ours do. Our staff has been doing a fabulous job, even with the budget cuts,” Boyer said.

However, keeping the same staff to resident ratio means waitlist times will increase.

“As of right now, it’s hard to judge how long people on the waitlist will have to wait to get in, and it varies by home,” added Wilson. “Since level 3 demands the most care, potential residents seeking that level of care will have to wait longer for those spaces to open up, but people seeking levels 1 and 2 care will have a better opportunity to get in more quickly.”

“Budgets go year by year,” continued Wilson. “We don’t know for sure what type of situation we’re going to have by July when we begin our FY 2018 budget. Most of the social services funded by the state will continue to experience cuts. As Alaska citizens, we still have the PFD and no income tax, so we’re part of these hard choices.”