By Mackenzie Stewart
Senior Voice 

Senior Benefits restored; Pioneer Homes rates go up


September 1, 2019

After a legislative session of extreme budget fluctuations, the Alaska Pioneer Homes and the Senior Benefits program are the next state-funded senior assistance programs to see a shift in funding.

Alaska Pioneer Homes rate increase

Starting Sept. 1, the Alaska Pioneer Homes (AKPH) will be increasing monthly rates for residents. Clinton Lasley, Alaska Pioneer Homes director, stresses that rate increases do not mean that residents - both current and those subjected to the waitlist - will be turned away for an inability to pay. The Dept. of Health and Social Services hopes implementing the rate increases will generate additional income for the Homes, which are state-subsidized assisted living facilities for Alaskans 65 years and older. With homes located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer, Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, residents partially pay for monthly residential and care services while the remaining cost of care provided is subsidized by state funding.

“There are a large amount of individuals in the system, and the remainder of their rates are subsidized with $34 million from the state’s general funds, although for FY20 we were only approved for approximately $28 million,” said Lasley. “The rate increase would charge residents the actual cost of providing services. We intend for this rate increase to allow for a needs-based system where we can figure out the true need for subsidized care instead of the state subsidizing every person.”

Accompanying the rate increases will be a further stratification of care levels within the Pioneer Homes: the usual three levels of care will be extended into five levels of care. The restructuring of the care model will allow Pioneer Homes staff to identify the needs of each individual and charge the full monthly

price required to provide a specific level of care.

“The Pioneer Homes used to have five levels of care up until 1995,” Lasley said. “That was the same time we were licensed as a nursing home rather than an assisted living facility. The average age of our residents currently is 87 years old, and they usually have higher needs. Those requiring the middle level of care have been costing a lot more to provide for because they might be able to take care of themselves during the day but might need more help at night or they might need more care as they age that doesn’t require the highest level.”

With the new five level system, Level one would encompass all living activities including housing, meals, emergency assistance and recreation activities for $3,620 per month. Levels two and three would include all the services of Level one, along with additional assistance with daily living tasks, other nursing services and medication management for $6,569 and $11,185 per month, respectively. Level four totals $13,333 monthly and includes Level one services and 24 hours of service where the majority of effort is provided by a staff member. Level five encompasses all that exceeds Level four and is $15,000 per month to provide.

The Pioneer Homes sent letters to residents in Feb. 2019 prefacing a potential rate increase.

“We wanted to get the information out there for our residents,” said Lasley. “There’s a lot of misinformation about this, and it can get complicated. We already reassessed what care level each resident would belong to with the new system before we sent the letters and made sure no elder would increase more than one level of care.”

To combat rising monthly rates coming this fall, Pioneer Homes social workers and administrators have been working with residents as part of the Payment Assistance program offered to all residents, Lasley said. “The state statute surrounding the Pioneer Homes says no elder would be evicted based on inability to pay,” he emphasized. “If elders can’t pay starting in September, we have expedited temporary approvals to reassure them. We are really proud of that statute. Our goal is to protect every senior 65 years and older and give them peace of mind to celebrate their life without having to worry about being kicked out of their home.”

The next Pioneer Home Advisory Board meeting will be held Sept. 12 at 9 a.m. Public comment occurs at the beginning of the meeting. Those interested in sharing experiences or asking any clarifying questions about the rate increase can join the meeting via phone at 1-800-315-6338 with access code 54784 followed by the # key.

Senior Benefits restored

After an abrupt cut in funding following Gov. Dunleavy’s June 28 veto of the Legislature’s proposed operating budget for FY20, the Senior Benefits Program will be restored starting Sept. 1. Recipients that missed out on support for July and August will be issued retroactive payments in addition to receiving their September assistance.

Senior Benefits is a needs-based program providing cash assistance to help Alaskans age 65 and older who live on limited fixed incomes better afford basic essentials such as food, housing, medication and transportation. Going forward, the program will continue to issue the same payments of $76 per month for those that are 125% of the federal poverty income level, $175 per month for those at the federal income poverty level and $250 per month for those that are 75% of the federal poverty income level.


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