Opinion

Governor’s budget cuts will hurt VCCC

By LYNN DAVISON

For The Beachcomber

In 1995, the Vashon community saved Vashon Community Care Center, our Island’s only nursing home, from closure by creating a nonprofit organization and raising funds from generous Islanders to purchase the old building. Fast forward 14 years, and our community now has a new facility with 30 skilled nursing beds, 40 assisted living apartments and an adult day health program.

The skilled nursing unit has a five-star rating from the federal government, the highest possible. Only six of the 66 nursing homes in central Puget Sound have achieved this level of excellence.

VCCC is very carefully managed to maintain outstanding quality with limited resources. We are a significant employer on the Island with a competent and caring staff. We’re also a community resource, offering space for the arts, popular community-wide events, transportation and food services to participants of the Vashon Senior Center.

A founding principle of VCCC is to offer our services to people of all incomes, including those with limited in-comes who are covered by the state-operated Medicaid program. Currently, more than 80 percent of our skilled nursing residents, 26 percent of our assisted living residents and 75 percent of our adult day health participants have Medicaid coverage or pay a reduced rate for services based on their income.

VCCC has an annual operating budget of $4.1 million, with more than half of the budget supporting the skilled nursing unit. Major operating revenues are resident private payments (48 percent), Medicaid payments (49 percent) and private fundraising and other sources (3 percent). VCCC is an independent organization, solely owned by the nonprofit. We have an annual $66,000 contract with Providence to provide management and support services.

Our revenues, however, barely cover our costs, and while we have limited reserves for building maintenance, we have no other operating reserves. If our census is down, if the mix of Medicaid and private pay varies significantly from budget, or if our rates are cut, we have no margin.

Today we are facing a potential crisis. The governor, in the budget she recently submitted to the Legislature, proposes significant cuts in Medicaid skilled nursing rates and elimination of Medicaid funds for adult day health. Legislators, meanwhile, have proposed removing the state portion of the property tax exemption for nonprofit nursing homes.

If all these cuts were adopted by the Legislature in its 2009-2011 biennial budget, what would happen at VCCC? There would be significant reductions in staff-to-resident ratios in skilled nursing. There would be reduced compensation for staff who are already not paid enough for the excellent and caring services they provide. The result would likely be more turnover. There would be the elimination of services not required for licensure, such as foot care, transportation services, optional food services, adult day health and others.

This would affect not just all residents but the community as a whole. There would be risk that a decrease in quality of services could result higher vacancy rates. That would mean even less revenue.

While we understand that the state revenue shortfall requires belt-tightening for all, we must strongly object to balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable in our community.

The Vashon community created VCCC. We own it, and if we want it to continue as the Island treasure it has become, we must advocate vigorously to limit these proposed state cuts. The VCCC Board of Directors is undertaking a campaign to help our community understand the risks and become active participants in opposing the cuts.

Islanders can help stave off these dire potential cuts. How? You could contact our own state legislators — Reps. Sharon Nelson and Eileen Cody and Sen. Joe McDermott — and ask them to oppose the cut in Medicaid nursing home rates, elimination of funding for adult day health and elimination of the property tax exemption for nursing homes. Take advantage of personal relationships with legislators, particularly those in decision-making positions, to oppose these cuts. Tell your friends and neighbors about the risk, and ask them to do the same. Visit Olympia and talk in person to lawmakers or testify at hearings. Help us develop and distribute posters that provide these facts or describe the risks and actions to take on a Voice of Vashon broadcast.

To help you take action, the VCCC board has posted talking points and form letters and will provide updated information about new proposals, hearings and other opportunities for action on our Labor of Love Web site, www.laboroflovevashon.org. If you have questions or want to volunteer, contact Susan Tuller, VCCC’s administrator, at 567-4421.

Please help us with this advocacy effort. VCCC is part of the fabric of Vashon, and its services are integral to making us the amazing community we are.

— Lynn Davison is a board member at Vashon Community Care Center.

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