Palmer Pioneer Home

New, higher rates at Alaska’s Pioneer Homes went into effect Aug. 30.

New, higher rates at Alaska’s Pioneer Homes went into effect Aug. 30 and while they seem a shocker for those having to pony up more money they actually reflect the cost of care at the state-operated facilities, state officials say.

What’s different about the state Pioneer Homes compared with private skilled service facilities for seniors is that everyone is accepted regardless of ability to pay, said Clinton Lasley, state director of the Pioneer Homes. “We don’t even look at peoples assets,” he said.

Another difference is that the Pioneers Homes are equipped to offer service up to the end of life, which many private facilities cannot do, Lasley said.

The new rates generally reflect what is being charged in private nonprofit and for-profit assisted-care senior facilities for seniors. Pioneer Homes’ first three levels of service fit into the assisted-living category.

The increase for the most basic care, termed “Level I” essentially housing, meals, emergency assistance, opportunities for recreation and transportation for recreation, went from $2,588 per month to $3,623 per month.

“Level II” service, which includes add-ons like medication management and assistance with two activities of daily living, went from $4,692 per month to $6,569 per month.

“Level III,” which includes additions like more assistance for living, certain behavior management and nursing services. Level III service recipients are still generally independent, however.

Higher levels of care, which would be offered in a skilled-care facility, require payments of $13,333 per month for Level IV, where staff members provide hands-on help 24 hours a day, and payment of $15,000 per month for Level V, with higher levels of assistance by staff and nurses including medication and behavior management.

Although the costs are steep they are actually lower than what is charged on many private skilled-care facilities, which can $20,000 to $22,000 a month in Anchorage and more in facilities outside Anchorage where costs are higher.

While painful for many, the increases are aimed at helping bring in more revenue to reduce the amount of subsidy required from the state. Gov. Mike Dunleavy is working to reduce the state’s costs and the large deficits that resulted from a collapse of oil prices, and state income, in late 2015.

Lasley said the governor initially proposed elimination of $34.5 million in state general fund support for the Pioneer Homes, but then supported a move by the Legislature to restore $25.9 million of that.

A gap of roughly $9 million still exists between costs and funding, and it’s thought that the rate increases might bring in $5 million, Lasley said, which will at lease reduce the operating deficit for the Pioneer Homes.

This is just an estimate, however, and the amount the increases will actually bring won’t be known for a while, he said.

Meanwhile, for those in the homes who will have difficulty paying for the increase a payment assistance plan is available. As is common with private senior care facilities the assistance provided is a debt.

When a resident’s liquid resources are exhausted the state must be able to file a claim against the individual’s estate for the amount of payment assistance provided.

There are six Pioneer Homes in the state, in Palmer, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan, with a total capacity over 400 beds.

The first Pioneer Home opened in Sitka in 1913. The home was kind of a winter haven for down-on-their-luck gold prospectors who had a poor season and couldn’t afford the steamship passage to Seattle.

The original Sitka home was replaced in 1935. The Pioneer Homes came under ownership of the new state of Alaska in the early 1960s.

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