WLRC bill impacts discussed at LEADER meeting; Residents encouraged to contact Representatives

Joe Quiroz spoke to LEADER Corp. about the impact of the Wyoming Life Resource Center. (Joshua Scheer photo)

Joe Quiroz spoke to LEADER Corp. about the impact of the Wyoming Life Resource Center. (Joshua Scheer photo)

By Joshua Scheer, reporter, county10.com

(Lander, Wyo.) – Today the bill seeking to study the possible transition of Wyoming Life Resource Center clients will come before the Senate for a third and final vote. The Senate has amended the bill from its original state coming from the House of Representatives.

This morning, a group of roughly 20 Lander area residents and business leaders discussed the fate of the WLRC in the monthly LEADER Corp. meeting. LEADER Corporation is a Lander-based Economic Development organization that holds monthly meetings to inform the public on events and projects that affect the economies of Lander, Riverton and Fremont County. Read yesterday’s story about the current state of the bill here.

Co-president Dave Kellogg started off the discussion by emphasizing the economic impact the WLRC has on Lander. He called the center “a major factor” in the community.

He said the bill’s original intention of looking into transitioning the WLRC’s clients into community programs or nursing homes “essentially amounts to closing the facility.”

The facility, Kellogg said, has about a $30 million annual budget, much of which goes toward paying 433 employees. He noted that those employees spend their money here, buying groceries and cars and going to restaurants.

“Think what happened when U.S. Steel closed,” he said to the group, which happened in the early 1980s.

Kellogg said at that time about 500 people lost their jobs, and the effect would be similar should the WLRC close. In 1986 there were 600 houses for sale in town, he said.

“That’s something that would hit us all right between the eyes,” Lander Regional Hospital Board Chairman Joe Quiroz said.

Quiroz followed Kellogg’s statements, quick to point out that he’s not a professional on the day-to-day operations of the center. He said he got to know the center better recently through a tour given to him by Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander.

He said he’s personally struggled with whether he’d want to be kept alive if in extreme situations like many of the WLRC clients. But on his tour he met a woman who has been using a respirator for 17 years. “She made a gesture that showed me she had a personality,” he said. He told the group gathered at the Oxbow that the woman was able to communicate to him that she enjoyed watching the squirrels play.

Quiroz said a pair of nurses told him that they work there because “These people are so easy to love.”

Laura Davidson then gave the group her personal experience with the WLRC. She is the guardian for her brother who is there. “He’s not easy to love,” she said, commending the WLRC staff for their work.

Her brother was a pedestrian who was hit by car. Throughout his recovery, he was removed from several nursing homes. Eventually the Wyoming State Hospital got him into the WLRC. She emphasized that he wasn’t a fit for any nursing home and that he wouldn’t be now if he was transitioned out as the bill proposes to study.

Davidson also talked about her visit to the Capital and testifying before a House committee. She said she’s pleased with the bill as currently amended as it broadens the scope, and includes measures that would study the cost and efficiency of the center beyond just transitioning clients.

Dan Brossman said he was the WLRC’s first full-time chaplain in the 1980s. While he was there he said he saw an average of six funerals a year. After a large number of clients were transitioned out into the community in the early 1990s, Brossman said there was an average of 17 per year. Andy Gramlich said that is because people have a hard time adjusting to new environments, and it causes stress.

Former Rep. Del McOmie said there would likely be another attack on the amendments today at the third reading. Following the reading the bill will probably be denied a concerance vote in the House of Representatives, and it will then be sent to a conference committee where the two houses will work out details.

McOmie encouraged people at the meeting, and residents abroad, to e-mail their Representatives and put in the subject line “concur with the Senate amendments to HB 68.” E-mail addresses for legislators may be found here.