TONASKET — An announcement this week that North Valley Hospital will close its assisted living facility left 27 seniors looking for a new home and some of their relatives angry over the decision.
The public hospital says funding losses are forcing the move 15 years after their assisted living center was built with a bond passed and funded by the community.
Residents are being asked to leave by March 31.
The nonprofit assisted living center is operated by the hospital district, and is the only assisted living facility in northern Okanogan County. Families say the next closest, in Omak, will not be able to take many of North Valley’s residents.
The hospital has a placement team to help them find a new place to live, said Helen Casey, chairwoman of the nonprofit hospital board which voted unanimously Thursday to close the assisted living center.
“This is probably one of the most difficult things to do,” she said. The nursing home portion of the facility — which serves residents who have much higher needs with higher reimbursements — will remain open, she said. About half of the 56 beds in the facility operate under the assisted living license. Casey said the hospital board hasn’t decided how to use the assisted living area.
The assisted living center lost $800,000 in the last seven years, according to a statement from the hospital’s CEO, Linda Michel. And with a large majority of its residents on Medicaid, reimbursements aren’t large enough to keep it open, she said. Medicaid pays between $59 and $60 a day per resident, and with its current population, that costs the hospital district $85.68 per resident a day, she said.
“The decision was not made lightly,” Michel’s statement said.
Some community members say they don’t accept the board’s decision, and will work to reverse it.
“This was a shock,” said Connie Maden, who used to work at the hospital and was serving on a committee developed to explore ways to make the assisted living facility profitable.
She said the committee asked for financial information — which it never got — and had discussed ways to cut costs and raise revenue when the board suddenly voted to close it.
She said residents plan to ask the board to keep the assisted living center open at the next board meeting on Jan. 24.
Pat Acheson, whose 86-year-old mother lives there, said the facility would be profitable if the board had paid off its bond as planned, instead of refinancing it. And, she said, even if the hospital can use the space for a more profitable venture — such as the hospital’s rehabilitation services — the board of the nonprofit hospital district is supposed to serve the community, not to find ways to profit.
She said she feels the committee had been coming up with solid ways to make the facility profitable, and had asked hospital administrators for salaries and operating costs.
Acheson said she worries about the elderly residents with dementia — including her mother — who will be confused by a move. If it closes, she said, “The only thing I can see I can do is bring mother back here to the house,” she said, adding that she may also look into facilities in Alaska, where she works.
Sharon Cox said she’ll be moving her 93-year-old mother to Omak, and now will probably be able to visit her only weekly, instead of daily.
“I don’t have time to play games. If it’s closing, it’s closing,” she said.
She said even though the move won’t be easy for her mother, she at least has a family to help her.
She worries about the many residents who don’t. “I have been in tears over those dear, dear people,” she said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512