Celebrate our seniors by keeping them close to home – Jackson Hole News&Guide

Housing is a hot topic in Jackson Hole as it is in many other ski towns. We know that we need to continue to invest in workforce housing to maintain a vibrant, diverse and inclusive community. The town of Jackson, Teton County and nonprofit groups are working hard to find housing for young families and single workers trying to survive here and remain in our workforce. Unfortunately, there is a segment of the community that is often lost, forgotten or not included in the discussions and action plans.

Housing our senior citizens and ensuring their continuum of care is not on the minds of many community members or not considered within their scope of work. The community did rally on a recent specific purpose excise tax initiative to fund and build Sage Living, our skilled nursing and memory care center associated with St. John’s Health. It seems to be extremely popular, as it immediately filled and has a 1.5-year waiting list despite the $13,000 per month rate. Most would say we checked that box and are done. It is a great start, however I understand there is a waiting list of 50 people. Sadly, we have other gaps in the continuum of senior housing needs.

Many of us are not familiar with the progression of senior care from independent living to assisted living and possibly on to skilled nursing and memory care. Legacy Lodge was an important link in that continuum of senior care and housing. Last year, unfortunately, they closed and residents were left scrambling to find care in Idaho Falls or Dubois. This is the gap that needs to be repaired to maintain a community that is inclusive for all ages and keeps our seniors close to family and friends.

Now, instead of being inclusive and treated as celebrities and icons of our community, they are castaways, moved out of the county to Idaho and Dubois. How are they expected to flourish when visits from family and friends are less frequent? It requires a round trip drive of 3.5 hours to either facility. Seniors will start to miss weddings, graduations, birthdays, holidays and even funerals of family and friends. We need to bring assisted living back to Jackson and perhaps Legacy Lodge.

The National Institute of Health reports that approximately 70% of the population will need assisted living or skilled nursing care at some point in their life. Approximately, 2% of the U.S. population is currently using assisted living. In Teton County, that would suggest that 467 members of our population (23,331) could need this care. You can assume that in a wealthy community like Teton County, some residents can remain in their homes with a personal caretaker or nurse. Operating as a for-profit facility, Legacy Lodge failed to make a profit and closed with 36 of 57 apartments occupied. Previous owners also failed. Labor was expensive and hard to find. Utilities were high. The business model did not work. What is the solution?

Don’t repeat the same business model, but consider restructuring as a nonprofit, public-private partnership. Build that partnership by bringing together fundraising, angel donors, SPET, state and federal grants, and a commitment from Teton County, the town of Jackson, St. Johns Health and non-profit advocates to support an assisted living facility.

As the Darwiche family struggles with zoning and community resistance to their workforce housing plan for Legacy Lodge, it might be time to consider a win-win-win-win solution. The partnership buys the property, and the Darwiche family gets a financial return and a chance to find a better location.

Rafter J residents get the familiar lodge back and residents of Jackson Hole have assisted living available locally. Most importantly, our seniors can return home to Teton County, their family and friends, and the events that enrich their lives. These seniors committed years to being our teachers, park rangers, snow-plow drivers, nurses, service workers, soldiers and first responders. Let’s be inclusive of all ages, include senior housing in everyone’s scope of work and keep grandpa and grandma close to home in Jackson Hole.

Kevin Cochary has owned a home near Snow King for 33 years. He is an advocate for senior healthcare and housing in Teton County and hopes to see an assisted living facility return to Jackson Hole. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.