By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Lander, Wy0.) – The concerns and fears of parents, families and guardians of residents of the Wyoming Life Resource Center were aired Thursday night before officials from the Wyoming Department of Health, who are charged with a study on how to reduce costs at the Lander-based facility. One of the major fears repeated time and time again at the more than two hour-long session is the potential that residents would be moved away from the WLRC and into community-based programs and that the center would be shuttered.
“My sister has come a long way since she’s been here, and it’s not fair to move her,” said Ruthie Lay from the telephone hookup. “You can’t do in the community what she gets here in Lander.”
That sentiment was a frequent testimony as guardians and family members told personal stories of how their loved ones, many of whom had been shuffled from one community setting to another, finally landed at the WLRC and began to improve if not thrive.
Another caller said she was afraid her relative would “move backwards” if she were to be moved away from Lander. “Saving money is not equal to someone’s life,” said a woman identified as Joan on the telephone. “We mightily need the WLRC, we are blessed with this facility to help them improve a little bit at a time.” Joan also noted that her family member had been at the center for 49 years. “It’s her home,” she said.
Several testified that the WLRC cares for residents with the most profound of disabilities and the fact that they can receive one-on-one care around the clock was a key to their survival and improvement.
There were also other concerns aired at the meeting.
“I am concerned with the skill level of staff at community based centers,” said Nolan Jenkins.
Stacy DeBock asked if all revenues generated at the center from leases and rents could stay with the WLRC, instead of being funneled back to the state’s general fund. She suggested if those revenues could be pumped back into the center, then the operating costs could be lowered.
Vicki Whitaker said the current population of the WLRC is 90 residents, but that it has a capacity of up to 150. “Your fixed costs spread over 150 residents is less than 90,” she said. “I think the WLRC is the best kept secret in Wyoming because people can benefit by being here. It took us 24 years to find it.”
At least 65 guardians and family members were present from across Wyoming and the western United States, 37 in person at the Rothwell Training Center at the WLRC, and 28 listening in and commenting on a telephone conference line. Out of state callers came from the midwestern state of Wisconsin, plus the regional states of Colorado, Utah, Montana, Oregon and Washington, in addition to Wyoming. Twelve of the phone participants were from out of state and 16 from across Wyoming. Familes who traveled here came from Big Piney, Rock Springs, Lingle, Glenrock, Elk Mountain, Pavillion and Lander, in addition to Ogden, Utah.
Tom Forslund, WDH Director, said Thursday’s meeting “was not us talking to you, but you talking to us.” He said the meeting is the first of two such sessions with guardians and families of residents. He said a second input meeting would occur late this summer after a draft of the agencies report has been compiled from five or six months of research.
Forslund said the legislature ordered the study to find cost savings at the WLRC, and he noted that the legislature had also asked his agency to find $80-million in cost reductions through the next biennium. “We’re under a directive to reduce spending,” and he noted that the WLRC has one of his department’s top five most expensive budgets.
He said the WDH had already met earlier in the day with the WLRC’s administrative team and the Center’s staff and that they would meet with community stakeholders at 9 a.m. Friday morning to complete their first round of public input. He also noted that the department had set up a special on-line survey for parents, families and guardians to make comments. That survey would be up for one month.
Much of the testimony delivered Thursday night was emotional, and stories abounded of how the WRLC had taken residents who had been kicked out of community based programs because of behavioral issues, and found a home in Lander where their care improved and behaviors significantly reduced.
Laura Davidson suggested the state look into upgrading the facilities here, or building a new building to reduce maintenance and overhead costs, “Like you did at the Wyoming State Hospital and the Wyoming Girls School,” she said. “I was told those new buildings were each paid for within six years. Why can’t you do that here?”
Another concern often repeated was on behalf of the residents of the WLRC’s Acquired Brain Injury program, which does not currently receive any Medicaid reimbursement. It was noted that half of the cost of that program could be funded with Medicaid reimbursements.
Others wanted to know how the costs were being applied when comparing the WLRC to community based alternatives.
“I’m concerned with your numbers,” said Kathy Martin, who noted that her family member had been in a nursing home in Casper for $7,000 a month, or $84,000 per year. “Is that the only cost you are looking at? What about nursing, meals, medical, transportation, dental costs? Here the doctor is on campus and comes to the resident, other places you have to travel to the doctor.”
Whitaker, who commented earlier, said personal choice should enter into the Agency’s consideration. Whitaker noted that her family member had been “kicked out” of two programs in Sheridan and that NOWCAP in Casper dealt with their behavioral issues by “sticking in a rocking chair and giving her food.” She said she’s been in Lander for the past five years. “This is the best place for her.”