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Hardin, Big Horn County weather nursing home closure

A walker in an empty hall in a nursing home
Heiko Küverling
iStockphoto/Getty Images
Corridor in a no longer exists nursing home in Magdeburg

Reporter Niklas Means with the Big Horn County News covered the closure of Big Horn Senior Living.

Multiple Medicaid-funded nursing homes in Montana communities including Bozeman and Hardin have shuttered this year because of finances.

One of them is Big Horn Senior Living, where officials said last month that the cost per resident has nearly tripled in the last five years, from $47 in 2017, to $122 today.

Niklas Means is a reporter for Big Horn County News and has been covering the facility’s closure. He spoke with Yellowstone Public Radio’s Kayla Desroches about the announcement and what it means for residents and the community.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Kayla Desroches: In July, you reported on the announcement that Big Horn Senior Living would be closing. What reasons did officials give?

Niklas Means: Roxie Cain - she's the controller for the Big Horn Hospital Association - she mentioned that they knew that there were issues from funding, but there were programs that they applied for that were going to help, but each of those programs ended up falling through.

And then the other issue is that the COVID emergency money that they were receiving has also dried up, so they don't have that anymore.

And then the Medicaid situation - cause the Medicaid costs are not paying out what they need to pay in order to be profitable or even to even just to pay for the individuals.

And then the staffing shortages - the cost to have people travel from other parts of the country to work here is too much for them to be able to shoulder the burden anymore.

And it was the hospital association that originally ran Big Horn Senior Living before they relinquished ownership of it back to the county, because they were renting the building from the county.

And Big Horn County has one of the highest poverty rates in the state. It’s been historically reliant on coal, which is not providing the revenue it once did. In your coverage of the July meeting where officials discussed the closure of Big Horn Senior Living, you wrote that the idea was floated for the county to try to keep the facility open, but that wasn’t financially feasible?

Right, it was mostly asking to raise taxes, but the issue — Mike Opie, the accountant explained — the issue with the raising taxes problem is that even if it passed, which there's no guarantee it would pass, the money wouldn't be available until November of 2023.

So, there would be this whole period of time, over a year of time where Bighorn county would have to eat the costs of [Big Horn Senior Living], and it would be millions of dollars by that time.

What's the reaction from the community been like?

People are incredibly upset. At least those that are present at the meetings.

I do know that the total population of the center is around 40 residents if I'm not mistaken, so I couldn't say the overall across the entire city, ‘cause I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't have family members there, but for the people who do have family members there, they've been very angry.

It’s come as a big shock to a lot of them, actually. A lot of them were asking ‘Why didn't you tell us this was happening?’ One person I know who spoke out was Denise Rio who's the treasurer for the county, and she also has family members at the home, and she was in tears.

As far as you know, what is the plan for residents?

Right now, they're working with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. So, they're working with them to move people to centers that have space.

I believe the best-case scenario that the county commissioners were talking about was to get them to Billings, because that would be the closest.

Nobody wants Big Horn Senior Living to close and to have to move everybody. It's just one of the unfortunate casualties of everything that's going on right now with rising costs and everything.

It's kind of like the canary in the coal mine. Like, it's gonna start with the rural places and then I think it might spread to more urban, larger areas.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.