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Lawmakers confident about future of WLRC
Jan 21, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
Local legislators are confident that the Wyoming Life Resource Center will remain in Lander based on the results of a recent study by the state Department of Health.
The study, commissioned by the Wyoming Legislature in 2013, does not recommend forced transition of clients from the WLRC. On the contrary, it says the WLRC functions as a "necessary safety net" in Wyoming.
The residential facility provides medical support and habilitation services to people with intellectual disabilities or brain injuries.
"We need it," said Chris Newman, senior administrator for the state's Behavioral Health Division.
She added that WDH director Tom Forslund and Gov. Matt Mead both have said they don't want the facility closed. State Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, agreed.
"We're not going to close it down," Bebout said, "at least not under my watch."
Some have recommended moving the WLRC to another part of Fremont County or Wyoming, but state Rep. Lloyd Larsen said most members of the Labor, Health and Social Services Committee were against the idea. Larson is a member of the committee and was present at the group's meeting earlier in January.
"We had a bill proposed that would have sold the current campus as it exists and directed the state to try and find another piece of property ... to build another facility," Larson said. "That was very concerning, but that bill didn't gain any traction at all. It didn't even muster enough interest to get a vote in committee."
In Newman's opinion, moving the WLRC away from Lander wouldn't make sense. The facility was established in the mountain town in 1907.
"The expertise that's there is so invaluable," Newman said. "We'd have to build that expertise somewhere else, and I don't know why we'd want to do that when we have it there."
The WDH study does outline several measures that could be undertaken to increase efficiency at the facility. For example, the WLRC could decrease overhead by addressing its "top-heavy staff structure," which includes too many shift supervisors and day programming managers, according to the study.
Facilities can be consolidated too: The study states the WLRC pays more per client (about $243,000) on building maintenance than the national average ($175,000 to $200,000).
"We've got an administration facility, and then you've got all the other buildings that are spread out north to south, east to west," Larsen said. "Some are being used, some aren't being used, (and) nothing is really close at hand."
He said the main WDH proposal is to reduce the size of the WLRC campus and construct new facilities that would allow for more cost-effective operations.
"They would consolidate greatly," Larsen said. "They would probably reduce the overall size of the campus by about half, and they would remove the buildings ... that are antiquated and in disrepair, then construct new buildings that more efficiently meet the needs of the clients that are there."
Most WLRC clients have "high-service" behavioral, personal and medical needs, a fact taken into consideration as part of the WDH study. In addition, many of the residents at the WLRC have been there for most of their lives: According to the study, 68 percent have lived there for 11 or more years, and 44 percent have lived at the WLRC for more than 40 years.
"A transition could impact their physical and mental well-being, resulting in a decline of their current conditions," the study states.
If the WLRC were to close, residents at the facility likely would transition to community placements, which can cost less, but which offer unsatisfactory services based on a survey of client guardians and family members.
"They believe placement outside of the WLRC would result in a lower quality of life for their clients," the study states.
The "rough" estimate for expected annual costs for WLRC clients in the community is between $7.3 million and $18.8 million, while the best estimate for expected annual costs for WLRC clients is between $10.5 million and $15.7 million. Total expenditures for fiscal year 2012 reached $28.7 million, with $12.6 million for direct care, $5.4 million for medical services and therapies, $4.6 million for administrative support and $6.1 million for operational support including food services. The average per-client cost was almost $306,000.
Bebout said the latter number is "very high."
"We need to get a handle on that," he said. "There's a way to do some capital construction to reduce the cost and number of people required to take care of the clients we have."
Instead of layoffs, he suggested reducing the WLRC personnel through attrition -- or leaving positions open after they are vacated.
State lawmakers will decide how to move forward with the WLRC during their 2014 Budget Session, which convenes Feb. 10. Larsen said the next step is to fund "reconnaissance and feasibility" studies that will determine final recommendations for the WLRC. Next would be a "design and construction" study.
"The first study we've got just gives us an overview of possibilities," he said. "They've made some very good recommendations as a starting point for the state to get serious about how they're going to mitigate the issues that are there. ... The state will move forward with a task force to determine exactly what direction (to go)."
The WDH estimated it will need $150 million to address issues at all of its facilities, Larsen said, including almost $50 million for the WLRC alone. This year, Mead has recommended allocating $60 million to begin the "long-overdue" work at the WLRC and at the Wyoming State Hospital.
"So that'd be $60 million of the $150 million total," Larsen said. "That'll all be part of the budget bill."
Clients at the WLRC are 22-89 years old, with an average age of 53 at the time of the WDH study. The WLRC currently serves about 90 clients, and 18 percent come from Fremont County.