By Karla Pomeroy
Editor 

Karla's Kolumn: The battle isn't over

Kudos to the Big Horn Basin legislators for banding together and getting Senate File 112 to study and work toward privatizing the Wyoming Retirement Center and Wyoming Pioneer Home killed.

 

February 24, 2018



Kudos to the Big Horn Basin legislators for banding together and getting Senate File 112 to study and work toward privatizing the Wyoming Retirement Center and Wyoming Pioneer Home killed. The legislators also worked to restore full biennium funding for the two facilities on both the Senate and House budget bills.

While this is good news for now Basin and Thermopolis need to be aware that it doesn’t mean the two facilities will remain state facilities forever. In fact, in listening to the comments during the House budget amendment debate, funding the facilities for two years seemed more like a stop gap measure and an opportunity to give the state and the communities time to prepare for changes to the facilities.

Rep. Mike Greear of Worland told the Daily News earlier in the week that they fight every year but feels that in three to four years they won’t be able to win the battle anymore.

Rep. Jamie Flitner of Greybull during the House debate said, “I get that we’re changing course, we’re just asking for a little more time.”

Rep. Jared Olsen of Cheyenne said, “We’re not making a decision to fund these facilities indefinitely. Most of us agree it is time for those communities to figure out how to run these facilities and maybe that means an organization comes in and runs it. But there’s a difference from having an exit strategy and simply cutting the funding and forcing the organizations to come in that aren’t even there.”


Having lived in both Thermopolis and Basin I understand the importance of both facilities in the communities. I’ve had relatives live at the Pioneer Home and I covered many events and met many residents at the WRC while working in Basin.

They are important facilities and I fear for the future if they are “privatized” because I know how it goes when people look at the economics and population of the small towns in the Big Horn Basin and they won’t invest. If there isn’t a company or organization willing to take over the facilities, what happens to the residents.

Those are questions that the state legislators or Department of Health officials didn’t seem to have answers for this week, which prompted several legislators to vote in favor of the amendment for full biennium funding.

Some legislators seemed shocked that the communities were not prepared for this and hadn’t been working toward this.

Well let’s think about that for a minute. First, the facilities are not owned by the communities. They are owned by the state and operated by the Wyoming Department of Health. The communities for the most part have no say in their operation.

Second, they want the facilities to remain state-owned so why would they “work” toward privatizing them.

Third, even if they did recruit a business or organization, the state has to let bids, it isn’t as simple as saying Company A wants to take over the WPH and Company B wants to take over the WRC so the papers are drawn up and it is done.

As state facilities there are procedures and laws to follow, that the state, not the communities must follow.

So, my advice to the state, is if this is something you truly desire and truly feel is best for the State of Wyoming, then be upfront about it with the communities, don’t spring legislation on them at the last minute. And, the state must move forward with making sure privatization is the right thing.

One legislator noted that the facilities have been studied, and he is correct, but no definite recommendations came from the task force three years ago. If there were definite recommendations then why the need for yet another study as called for in Senate File 112.

I’m sure the state would have like to have had the “easy” way out and just let funding disappear in a year but they own the facilities and that is not being proper stewards of the state’s facilities.

If the Department of Health wants to sell the facilities then they must make the arrangements but be transparent and don’t hide anything from the communities.

While the state has most of the responsibility for what happens next with these two facilities, I caution the communities to not be complacent. The battle may have been won this week, but if they want to keep the facilities in their communities then they will have to do some work.

Prove to the state the viability of the facilities and the need for the facilities to serve the entire state of Wyoming. Look at what other services could be added, or perhaps what different services could be provided to make it more viable for the state.

And, in so doing, the communities must also consider a future where the facilities are no longer state-owned. What that will mean for the communities? What can they do to make it work for a private company.

Yes, funding is in place for the Wyoming Pioneer Home and the Wyoming Retirement Center for the next two years, but the state and the communities of Basin and Thermopolis need to be planning for the future so in 2020 everyone will know the long-term future of the facilities.

The battle of 2018 may be over, but the work is just beginning.

NOTE: I erred last week in stating it was the Las Vegas shooter that should not have been allowed to purchase firearms. It was the Texas shooter in November 2017.

 
 

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