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Barton officials say low funds force closing

by Merrie Leininger, staff writer

Officials at Barton HealthCare System said high operating costs resulted in a decision to close the Carson Valley’s only skilled nursing facility.

Barton HealthCare, which owns Barton Skilled Nursing Center at Virginia Creek, issued a statement Monday confirming the facility will close at the end of February.

“We looked at all the different options, but we would have had to cut staff so drastically we couldn’t provide quality care. We felt strongly we would not run a facility that would not provide quality care,” facility administration Ester VanBaren said.

The decision was approved by Barton HealthCare System’s board of directors on Jan. 4, according to a press release from Linda Thompson, director of public relations.

– Moving. The skilled nursing center has 44 patients and 96 employees and is the only skilled nursing center in the Carson Valley. The next closest one is in Carson City.

The company is working to help the transition of the residents to facilities in Reno and Carson City. The company is offering severance packages and jobs within the company to some employees. A task force has been created to work with other employees.

Thompson said “additional opportunities” are being reviewed for the Barton facility.

VanBaren said the announcement has been difficult on the employees because they are losing what they consider their family.

“The hardest thing is it has been like a big family here and they’re very attached to the residents. I have had a lot of staff members literally coming into my office crying, not saying ‘What is going to happen to me?’ but ‘What’s going to happen to Mr. So-and-So?'” VanBaren said.

She said some of the patients no longer have family to help them move. She said the employees will be helping those patients.

“We are going above and beyond to get them placed some place,” VanBaren said.

She said the center could not respond to questions about the closing for the story that first reported the center would be closing in the Jan. 6 issue of the R-C because they had not been able to contact all the families.

“We wanted to wait until we talked to all our families. We wanted to first talk to them on the phone and not have them find out in the newspaper,” she said.

– Not enough funding. Thompson said the Barton center closure is an example of what is happening across the country.

The statement says that in the year 2000, 47 percent of the skilled nursing facilities in Nevada went bankrupt and that most of the problems are caused by a Medicare reimbursement rate of less than 37 percent.

“When costs average $380 per patient, per day and Medicare reimburses at $101.85 per day, that shortfall is devastating,” the statement said.

VanBaren said the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 dramatically changed Medicare and how it pays.

“In 1999, the government realized places were closing or going bankrupt. Adjustments were made, but it was too little, too late,” VanBaren said.

She said the company tried everything they could to cut costs, but were faced with severe personnel cuts.

Thompson said this should be a wake-up call to people who soon may be in the position of preparing for care during their old age and should be lobbying for more support.

“Let this be a call to action for all of us in taking an active stand in the future of our health care,” Thompson wrote. “As our population continues to age, living longer lives and not always healthier ones, we may all be faced with decisions regarding long-term nursing care. Don’t get caught unaware and unprepared.”