Open Letter to the Citizens of Sublette County
by Sanford (Sandy) Wise, Chairman, Board of Directors - Sublette Senior Center
November 23, 2011
My name is Sandy Wise. I am the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Sublette Senior Center. I am writing this open letter to the citizens of Sublette County to inform you of certain issues that are extant at Sublette Center; to tell you what the Center is all about; to ask for your input; and, ultimately, to seek your consent to rebuild the Sublette Center.
My intention is to move a precarious senior citizen state of affairs forward to a solution in a timely way - not create unnecessary anxiety among the residents of Sublette Center or within the County. I do want you to recognize and understand the issues and the concern of those of us who are involved with this.
To begin, let me make you aware of what the Sublette Senior Center (SSC) is and what it does for Sublette County. SSC is comprised of 5 parts: (1) SSC is a Skilled Nursing Facility. There are typically 30-40 residents in this facility. It cares for patients who require continual nursing care in a place that is fully licensed to provide such care; (2) SSC is a fully licensed Hospice which cares for terminally ill home-bound patients; (3) SSC is a fully licensed Home Health Care Facility which provides for home-bound patients needing nursing care; (4) SSC is a Rehabilitation Facility which leases its wholly owned property to Proactive Rehabilitation & Fitness Centers whose owner/operator is a fully licensed PhD Physical Therapist and provides services directly to SSC on an as-needed basis; (5) SSC is senior apartment living provided at a cost that is affordable to the senior citizens of Sublette County when they need a place to live; subsidized when needed. SSC is the only facility in Sublette County that provides these services. SSC has 70 full time employees on its staff. It employs more Registered Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses and Certified Nurse Assistants than the Sublette County Rural Health Care District. It is administered by an Executive Director, Heather McKee, who has Bachelor and Masters Degrees and is fully qualified and licensed to administer and operate the Sublette Senior Center, the only person in Sublette County who has such credentials. SSC nurses and senior staff are continually attending advanced training courses and seminars throughout the United States to maintain and upgrade their licensing, training and education. Federal, State and County licensure requirements to maintain and operate a facility such as the SSC are extensive and are subject to continual change and upgrading. SSC fully complies with all such licensure requirements.
The SSC has an annual operating budget on the order of $3.5-4.0 MM. The Center provides for approximately 85% of its own operating costs through successful, efficient and well organized operating practices. The remaining +/- 15% of its operating requirement is provided by the County. Apartment income is a key component to the successful operation of the SSC. With federal changes to Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements and the continually increasing cost of medical care, the other parts of SSC operations are marginal to negative on the income side of the ledger. The SSC is not and should never be expected to be a profitable enterprise. It exists solely for the health, comfort, safety and well being of the senior citizens of Sublette County.
SSC is very fortunate to have an Executive Director, Heather McKee, who has the qualifications, capability and temperament to administer this facility at the high level which she is able to accomplish. SSC has in the recent past received the highest (5 star) rating possible for nursing homes in Wyoming - one of only 10 such facilities in the State of Wyoming to do so; and the only non-profit in Wyoming to achieve this rating. The Board of Directors are all volunteers whose only purpose in donating their time and effort is to assure the well being of our seniors. We are not fund raisers; we are not administrators; we are only attentive citizens interested in the continuing comfort, safety and care of our senior citizens. We provide advice and guidance to Heather McKee when requested or required. The Board is made up of 8 volunteers from Big Piney/Marbleton, Bondurant and Pinedale.
The SSC has operated 24/7/365 for more than 34 years. No other facility in Sublette County has operated at such a pace. SSC is a 501(c)3 (non-profit) operation and technically is owned by the citizens of Sublette County. The physical facility is old and worn out. Recently (2010-2011) various physical problems have been discovered at the SSC. There are HVAC (Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning) problems that we have been cited for by the State; there are electrical problems throughout the interior of the building(s); and there are recently discovered black mold problems throughout the building(s). The mold problems are the most serious concern. As far as we know there are no known health issues as a result of this mold problem and SSC and the State are monitoring the situation. To quote a recent engineering report which the SSC commissioned: "Of the numerous deficiencies that were discovered, there are issues that stand out as significant and should be addressed as soon as possible. They include the apparent significant amount of mold present in the building and exterior wall cavity, the disruption and integrity of code required fire rated construction of the building, the electrical wiring code violations and the non-functioning HVAC in the nursing wing." Without going into further detail of these problems, let me inform you that the SSC has had engineering, architectural, environmental and various testing and remediation companies on site to evaluate these matters and make recommendations as to how to address the situation. OSHA has been consulted for recommendations. The unanimous consensus is that it will be more costly to fix the problems than to demolish and rebuild the entire facility. Once again, we have been studying various combinations of "fixes" for a long time. We have visited other nursing home projects within Wyoming and elsewhere to get the best ideas put together. We have preliminary plans for new and affordable senior housing including Marbleton/Big Piney and Pinedale in an overall housing plan; and a new Skilled Nursing facility in Pinedale (actually on the present site of the existing SSC). We are going out for bids with several firms to move this forward into final architectural and building design with the concurrence and generous support from the County Commissioners as well as requesting bids for construction management. Senior housing in Pinedale would accommodate current apartment residents into these new facilities. These apartments will be built to Assisted Living standards and converted to Assisted Living Apartments as the need arises. After this initial construction we will demolish the present apartment wings at the SSC and build new Skilled Nursing Facilities on that location; and connect it with the relatively new, state-of-the-art kitchen at the SSC which is free of mold in the walls and in the air. These structures will be state-of-the-art "pods" that can be added to when senior population needs require expansion of such facilities. We want to have these designs complete by next spring and break ground for the apartments at that time for completion by fall 2012. Then we will begin the new Skilled Nursing Facilities and have them completed during 2013.
The alternative to this action is to have the State of Wyoming shut down the SSC. We have already seen this happen recently in Evanston. The State and County are fully aware of our problems and they are giving us time to rebuild the SSC. The County Health Officer in conjunction with the State of Wyoming has seen no adverse health effects at this time as regards the mold situation. So long as that remains the case we can move forward to replace the present, failing SSC.
We believe that Sublette County can afford to do what is required at this present moment in time. We are proposing to you citizens to implement some assessment to: (1) fund the design and construction of these new facilities at an estimated cost of $18-20 MM; and (2) continue with such assessment during the forward years to fund the operation of a new Senior Citizen Service District (SCSD). This is provided for under Wyoming Statute Title 18, Chapter 15. Our research indicates that 3 Wyoming Counties avail themselves of this law. Such an assessment would be voted on in the August 2012 primaries. In the meanwhile the County would provide any monies necessary to move this forward and get the construction underway. They would be repaid if/when an assessment was passed and moneys collected. The burden on the citizens is very minimal - and the benefit is for the senior citizens in our county. Additionally, the SCSD would likely include Sublette Senior Center, Pioneer Center and Rendezvous Pointe all funded by the assessment and operated by a voter elected Board of Directors. Each of the 3 entities would continue to have its own Board and would request funding from the elected SCSD. To summarize, these plans can move forward pretty much as outlined in this letter to you, if you, the citizens of Sublette County help us in our request that the county provide the immediate funding to do so. If not, the SSC will likely cease to exist.
And thus you have the purpose of this letter. The Sublette County Commission has been very generous in assisting the SSC with its operating expenses over the past several years and we are rightfully grateful for their continued support. And now we need your help to build a new and better facility and senior housing for the benefit of all of us in Sublette County.
Thank all of you for your time to read and consider this letter.
Sanford (Sandy) Wise, Chairman
Board of Directors
Sublette Senior Center
Sublette County, Wyoming