June 28 is the deadline for public comment on planned increases in rates at the state-operated Pioneer Homes, those Alaska-centric assisted living facilities where 450 older Alaskans call home.
The proposed rate increase comes as a result of an expected decrease in government subsidies, as proposed by the Dunleavy Administration.
The Alaska Pioneers Homes have been a budget worry for years. Because of fiscal constraints, the homes aren’t planning to close, a move threatened by the Walker Administration when faced with revenue shortfalls in 2017. Walker sent out letters that year to Pioneer Home workers describing the closures that would happen within months. It never happened, however, because it was all part of Walker’s orchestrated budget theatrics and his attempts to “stick it to” Sen. Peter Micciche, who had proposed a 20 percent reduction in subsidies.
But the state is still subsidizing the facilities to the tune of $30 million, and costs are rising.
Rates would increase between 40 and 140 percent to bring the rates closer to what it costs to provide services to the small and somewhat fortunate segment of Alaskan elders. Few Alaskans can even get in the homes, the waiting list is so long.
Statewide, there are over 6,281 Alaskans who are older than 85. Pioneer Homes take care of 7 percent of that elder population, with an average age of 87 at the homes.
As of July 1, 2018, 215 applicants were on an “active wait list” for a place in a Pioneer Home. That means they need a bed there right now. Another 5,135 individuals had filed 11,664 inactive waitlist applications, which helps hold their place in line for when they are ready. The date of a person’s application determines their order of admission into the Pioneer Home system.
The Department of Health and Social Services has proposed adding two more service tiers to the three already in the Pioneer Homes’ pricing structure, which is governed by regulation.
Those in the lowest tier, who receive housing, food, emergency help, and socializing events, currently pay $2,588 a month. That will rise to $3,623 a month, or $43,476 per year, under the proposed rate structure.
For those in the highest level of care, which generally is for a person with an intense amount of needs, the current rate of $6,795 per month would be increased to $15,000 per month. The tiers between those two would range from $6,569 to $13,333 per month.
Must Read Alaska has learned that there are no residents in the homes now that would be in the $15,000 range.
The Administration says no resident of any of the six Pioneer Homes will be kicked out for inability to pay. The Department of Health and Social Services is working to restructure the homes to allow them to collect federal funds through Medicaid and other programs. Currently, only a fraction of the cost of the Pioneer Homes operations are funded federally.
The rules that apply to Pioneer Homes financial aid can be found at this link.
The original intent of the Sitka Pioneers Home was to create a place for aging indigent men who came to Alaska as fishermen, pioneers, and homesteaders.
Over time, during the years when Alaska was flush with oil money, the one campus grew to six. But, as in its early years, the vast majority of Pioneer Home residents are Caucasian; minorities comprise 12 percent of the population. Native health care corporations have established tribal-based long-term care units around the state for their members, who often prefer to stay closer to home.