Saturday, February 28, 2004
Yampa Valley Medical Center's decision to back out of a deal to acquire The Haven in Hayden raises concerns about the facility's future.
The Haven is the only assisted living facility in Routt County, and though it has struggled, it fills an important niche in the community. It would be a shame to lose it, and we hope West Routt Rural Health Inc., owner and operator of The Haven, is able to find a solution that will keep the facility open.
Among the options for The Haven are finding another long-term operator, seeking taxpayer funding or hoping YVMC reconsiders its position.
YVMC officials did not discuss the specifics of the decision to withdraw two months after the hospital signed a letter of intent to acquire The Haven. Suffice to say YVMC looked at the Haven's books and decided it could not operate the facility profitably.
While the hospital's board of directors has a fiduciary responsibility to the hospital's existing programs and employees, it's disappointing that The Haven deal fell apart. As a nonprofit, YVMC's mission should be to find ways to meet the health-care needs of the region even if some of those needs detract from the bottom line.
The Haven is not the first assisted living facility to struggle. It was built eight years ago in the midst of a nationwide expansion of assisted living facilities. That expansion was fueled by Wall Street, which looked at the demographics nationwide, saw an increasing senior population and assumed an ever-increasing demand for such facilities. The expansion resulted in overbuilding and countless facilities have failed.
The Haven has been a victim of that phenomenon. Assisted living facilities do not provide medical care, but rather, assist seniors with other needs such as meals, activities and medication. Seniors and their families have not been as willing to choose assisted living as Wall Street imagined. Instead, many prefer to remain at home until a greater level of care is needed than the facilities such as The Haven can provide.
The Haven's maximum occupancy is 20. When it opened, the assumption was the facility would have expanded by now. It hasn't. Instead, occupancy has been as low as 50 percent, though it is now at 75 percent with 15 residents.
At least half of The Haven's residents are on Medicaid, and Medicaid reimbursement for assisted living is a fraction of the cost. That means the non-Medicaid residents face an ever-increasing share of the bill to operate the facility.
To its credit, The Haven has not taken the step of rejecting Medicaid residents, many of whom have the greatest need for assisted living.
Despite the challenges The Haven faces, it remains a valuable asset. The center is an integral part of the Hayden community. And though demand for the facility is not what planners hoped, the service is key to working families trying to care for elderly relatives. The Haven ensures its residents eat healthy, take proper medications and enjoy social interaction with other seniors -- services that working families aren't always able to provide consistently.
The Haven has not succeeded the way its founders imagined. But that does not mean such success won't come in the future. Besides, when it comes to health care, sometimes having a service available is more important than the profitability of that service. Obviously, the YVMC Board of Directors didn't feel that way; for The Haven's sake, we hope someone else does.