Senate budget cuts threaten to close Juneau, Palmer Pioneer Home

• Possible closure of assisted living homes for seniors would affect countless families in the capital city • House Reps. vow to fight proposed cut

Marion Rider has lived in Alaska since 1960.

 

The Alaska Senate may leave her homeless.

Included within the Republican-led Senate’s proposal for $276 million in budget cuts is a $6.5 million hit to the system of six Alaska Pioneer Homes, the state-supported centers for Alaska retirees.

That cut is more than 10 percent of the budget for the Division of Pioneer Homes, and it may mean the closure of the Pioneer Homes in Juneau and Palmer, the state has told residents.

Rider, who moved into the Juneau home at the end of 2016 with her husband, was among many residents interviewed Tuesday who said they simply don’t know what they’ll do if the home closes.

“As if Juneau doesn’t have enough homeless as it is,” she said.

Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, said the cut came as a surprise. He and his staff didn’t realize the impact of the missing money until the Senate passed its version of the state budget over to the House.

“They were shifting stuff, and we didn’t catch it,” he said. “I sure as heck know it now.”

Egan’s mother, Neva, lived in the Juneau Pioneer Home before her death, and Egan himself has been on the home’s wait-list since he turned 65.

“It’s horrible,” he said of the cut, and he hopes that it will be reversed in ongoing budget negotiations.

In the House, both Rep. Justin Parish, D-Juneau, and Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau, expressed similar hopes.

“We’re on our side going to fight it, and I think we’ll succeed,” Parish said.

“Definitely call and write your legislator or other legislators,” Kito said.

This fiscal year, the state is funding the Pioneer Homes with $62.2 million. Gov. Bill Walker proposed increasing that to $62.6 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

He proposed the increase in response to requests from the Division of Pioneer Homes for greater nursing support, and after cuts last year.

The House of Representatives heard and accepted Walker’s request.

The Alaska Senate heard Walker’s request, rejected it, then cut $6.5 million more.

In the Senate’s budget, the division is slated to receive only $56 million. Members of the Republican-led Alaska Senate majority say that because Walker could shift funding from elsewhere to cover the gap, the possible closure is his responsibility.

The difference between the House and Senate budgets is now up for negotiation.

At the Juneau Pioneer Home, administrator Gina Del Rosario said she has already been forced to cut the home’s number of available beds from 48 to 46. She tried to keep word of the possible closure quiet, but she told residents on Monday that it might happen.

Rider, who sat on a mobility scooter while petting a small dog, said she can’t imagine life beyond the Pioneer Home.

“I don’t think we could ever - if we lived on our own somewhere - find help like we have here,” she said.

Phyllis Woodman, now 81, came to Alaska in her 20s and has lived at the home for about four years.

“I think the whole idea is atrocious,” she said of the possible closure.

She added that if people would simply visit the home, they would understand why it matters.

Betty Daugherty, sitting near Woodman, said she and her husband have lived in Alaska for more than 65 years. She was a high school science teacher; he was a state employee.

“We could’ve moved south,” she said, but they chose to stay in Alaska.

They have six children, five near Juneau, and they wanted to keep their ties to home.

“If you go south, you’re quite isolated,” she said.

The Juneau home sees a steady stream of visitors on most days. Some bring cookies, some come simply to talk. On Tuesday, Alaskan Brewing founder Geoff Larson brought his dog for a visit.

Alaska’s Pioneer Home system was established in 1913, when a former U.S. Marine Corps barracks was used to house the elderly in Sitka. That home still operates but has been joined by five others: one each in Juneau, Ketchikan, Anchorage, Palmer and Fairbanks. The Juneau home was built in 1988, and there’s an extensive wait-list to get in, Del Rosario said.

According to her figures, 101 people are ready to move into the home as soon as there is a vacancy. Another 1,955 - including Egan - have signed up for the wait list but aren’t yet ready to move in. The home operates on a first-come, first-served basis, and any Alaskan can join the wait list at age 65. There’s no cost to sign up, only a cost when you’re admitted.

The wait can be years, and even with full funding, the homes can’t help everyone.

“Some of them, in the process, die waiting,” Del Rosario said somberly.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com. .or call 419-7732.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.


Topics

Brad Fluetsch 6 months ago
Only someone as dim as Governor Walker would close what could be sold to the private sector.  It is time that we admit that this administration is a complete and total failure.
JOHN WALSH 6 months ago

Did we read the same article:



This fiscal year, the state is funding the Pioneer Homes with $62.2 million. Gov. Bill Walker proposed increasing that to $62.6 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

He proposed the increase in response to requests from the Division of Pioneer Homes for greater nursing support, and after cuts last year.

The House of Representatives heard and accepted Walker’s request.

The Alaska Senate heard Walker’s request, rejected it, then cut $6.5 million more.    More from the ADN: "The Pioneer Home cut was not the governor's cut," said Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson. "He said that he will fight to ensure seniors are not displaced from their homes."

Daniel Donkel 6 months ago

 I pay the State of Alaska money, the state of Alaska has never paid me anything but you and all Alaskans share into the money we invest in Alaska!

You should want many more like me in Alaska. If I don't bring oil companies to Alaska to invest in my leases and if they don't produce them I make no royalty income.

Look, you seem very smart, I want what the state of Alaska wants and that is MORE OIL PRODUCED FAST!

My investment is in Alaska is important to many and I must protect it. I fought against SB 21 and offered the 777 plan, please check it out under documents under SB 21 legislative website, the current Revenue Director, Mr. Ken Alper said in 2013 it was the best plan he seen when he worked for Beth Kurttila .

I wish the Legislature did away with all these confusing and tricky tax laws. I wish we only had a flat royalty because the state would have much more oil produced and as a result and much more money then under HB 111. Call me, see donkeloilalaska,com

DOROTHY WILSON 6 months ago
This is absurd. Because Juneau is isolated if the Pioneer Home in Juneau closes family and friends in Juneau can't even visit.   I know the home is always completely filled.  We just had friends who had to go to Sitka home because there was not vacancy in Juneau.    

The idea of the Alaska Pioneer Homes was just for that purpose.  To provide  a place for Alaska residents who had lived in Alaska 15 years to have a home.  Now people can bring their elderly parents to town and keep them for a year then put them in the home and keep Alaskans like John and Leight Sandor from getting a place when they need one.  

I thought several years ago when Pioneer home started charging thousands more a month for those who have more services, it was to assure there would be a fairly reasonably priced place for elderly to be cared for and stay near their home and friends.   


DOROTHY WILSON 6 months ago
It is shocking that no one on Dennis' Staff caught that little zinger.    
Stephen Conn 6 months ago
The attack by those motivated by pure greed switches from stealing from children's dividend checks to putting the elders out on the ice flows when they become too sick or crazy to be left at home. 
Kataan Phillips 6 months ago
It is my opinion that the ads supporting veterans and seniors during the election  be brought out and compared to the votes in the senate. 
Concern for veterans extends as far as successful election to office then never passes the republican voting block when it comes to support.
Patriots for merica, yeah right
Gerald Newton 6 months ago
I have gone through our family trying to find an assisted living home in Fairbanks twice in the last 10 years. It is a disgusting experience. So many of these are nothing more than a house converted to an assisted living home. They have limited HVAC systems, narrow hallways, and even smell bad. My sister who was paralyzed and couldn't speak told us through sign language that she was sexualy molested in one Fairbanks Assisted Living home. These homes hire questionable people. They need to put cameras in these homes to monitor behavior by the staff. And the cost is always about $5,000 per month. If a person has money that goes toward paying until the money runs out then Medicaid takes over and the senior gets about $100 a month spending money. The waiting list for the Fairbanks Pioneers' Home is about 4 years. My Mom died before she could get in. We sent our sister to Tacoma to a fine home after she was molested and she died two years later. It is too bad we let an entire 35 years of oil money slip through our hands and got no major improvements in homes for seniors.

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