Senate President Cathy Giessel of Anchorage is the lone Republican senator to sign as a cosponsor of a bill lowering the rates at the Alaska Pioneer Homes.
House Bill 96 would put the retirement home rates in statute, rather than allowing the State to establish rates via regulation.
The Alaska Pioneers Homes, with about 500 residents in all, are unique to Alaska. They began in 1913 with the original site in Sitka established for indigent elderly miners and loggers. The home was a converted U.S. Marine Corps barrack.
In the mid-1950s, women and Alaska Natives became eligible for admission. During Alaska’s oil boom, another five homes were built around the state. Meanwhile, Natives generally seek elder care at Native-owned facilities, and costs of caring for the elderly rose.
Alaska’s Pioneer Homes are some of the least expensive elder-care facilities in the nation, heavily subsidized by the State of Alaska for a small clientele of often-well-to-do Alaskans whose offspring object to the rate increase; they don’t want to lose their anticipated inheritance to the care facilities to pay for the care of their elderly parents. The Anchorage home is where former Gov. Wally Hickel breathed his final breath, cared for in the memory care unit.
The average age of residents at the Pioneer Homes is 87 and more than 58 percent of them require higher levels of care. More and more are asking to be admitted to the memory care “neighborhoods” for Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Sen. Giessel’s mother is a resident of one of the Pioneer Homes, an apparent conflict of interest, although not illegal.
In Fiscal Year 2019, Alaska subsidized Pioneer Home residents with $34,592,000 in state funds.
Sponsored by Anchorage Democrat Rep. Zack Fields, House Bill 96 passed the House, 35-4 in May and will be heard next in the Senate Health and Social Services Committee on Wednesday at 1:30 pm.
The new law would prohibit the state from charging for the actual cost of caring for the homes’ residents and instead would establish, in statute, the following rates:
- $2,976 a month for housing, meals, emergency assistance, and recreation
- $5,396 a month for housing, meals, emergency assistance, medication administration, health-related services, recreation, and intermittent assistance with activities of daily living.
- $7,814 a month for the provision of housing, meals, emergency 29 assistance, medication administration, health-related services, recreation, and extensive assistance with activities of daily living;
- $8,500 a month for the provision of housing, meals, emergency 01 assistance, medication administration, medication management, health-related services, recreation, assistance with activities of daily living and nursing services for 24 hours a day, and intermittent behavior management.
HB 96 not only rolls back the rate structure, it provides for what is called “reasonable and regular rate increases” based on Social Security cost-of-living schedules. The cost-of-living rate set by Social Security was one third of one percent in 2017.
The state Pioneer Home Assistance Program has $25 million in it to assist those who cannot afford the new rates. In the past, the residents have covered about 44 percent of the cost of their care, with state funds picking up the rest.
Giessel joined Senators Scott Kawasaki, Bill Wielechowski, Donny Olson, Tom Begich, Elvi Gray-Jackson, and Jessie Kiehl as cross sponsors.
In November, a pair of attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Dunleavy Administration over the rate increases. Vance Sanders and Libby Bakalar have asked the courts to stop the rate increases, and they are asking that the State pay their legal fees associated with the case, which they are requesting to be accepted by the court as a class-action lawsuit.