Opinion: Alaska Pioneer Homes continue to provide a home and community to Alaska’s elders

More elders are coming to Pioneer Homes with higher levels of need requiring greater assistance.

  • By Adam Crum
  • Monday, September 2, 2019 8:32pm
  • Opinion

Alaska Pioneer Homes have a long history of offering Alaska’s elders caring, engaging places to age in place as their living and health care needs increase. Today, the average resident in a Pioneer Home is 87 years old and lives in one of the six homes for about two years. More elders are coming to Pioneer Homes with higher levels of need requiring greater assistance. This is in part due to elders who require less intensive care staying in their own homes longer thanks to a rise in community-based supports.

With elders entering our homes with more serious needs and the growing numbers of seniors in Alaska’s population, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) is faced with the challenge of maintaining the high level of care for each and every Pioneer Home resident as costs continue to rise. That brings us to our current situation and the recent increases to the Alaska Pioneer Homes rates.

Understandably, these changes have resulted in a lot of talk and some anxiety about the future of Alaska Pioneer Homes and how older Alaskans will be served. Unfortunately, some of those concerns are based on inaccurate information or misunderstandings that need addressing so Alaskans can be assured they will continue to have options in our state as they age.

The increased rates reflect the actual amount it costs to provide services at each of the five designated levels of care. The previous rates did not cover the full cost of services, which meant the State of Alaska was subsidizing care for every resident, even those who were able to pay more towards their cost of service. DHSS paid more than $34.5 million to subsidize the Alaska Pioneer Home system in fiscal year 2019. The additional funds brought in through these increased rates will support only the actual care for that resident, and will not be used to provide for services outside of the Pioneer Homes or to subsidize the costs of other residents.

For those who are concerned that the increased rates will make the Pioneer Homes unaffordable to many older Alaskans, a person’s income or assets are not an eligibility requirement for entrance into a Pioneer Home. Regardless of income, Alaskans 65 years and older who have lived in the state for at least one year are eligible to live at a Pioneer Home. There is a waitlist for the homes, but applicants are chosen on a first-come, first-served basis on their original application date. The same is true for all current residents of the Pioneer Homes — under Alaska state law, no one can be evicted if their income and assets are insufficient to pay the monthly rate.

Help is available in many forms to Pioneer Home residents who need assistance in paying for their care. Many low-income elders with significant physical limitations and medical needs receive financial assistance through a Medicaid waiver and veterans at our Alaska Veteran and Pioneer Home in Palmer receive a per diem from Veterans Affairs.

Additionally, residents who can’t afford to pay the full amount of their rate can get help through the Alaska Pioneer Homes’ own Payment Assistance Program. Also mandated by state law, this program essentially creates a sliding fee scale. Residents pay the amount they can afford and payment assistance covers the remaining amount. There are built-in protections for residents who have spouses that live in the community so their spouse continues to have sufficient income to provide for their living expenses. This program will continue to help bridge the gap for our seniors in need.

Providing excellent care, to every resident, every day, every time, is one the core values of the Alaska Pioneer Home system. Being financially stable is an important part of being able to live up to that core value as it allows us to sustain operations of the Pioneer Homes into the future. Everyone at the Alaska Pioneer Homes and the Department of Health and Social Services — myself included — is proud to continue the tradition of caring for those who helped build our great state.

Adam Crum, M.S.P.H., is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.


Adam Crum, M.S.P.H., is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.


More in Opinion

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, a Soldotna Republican who co-chairs the House Education Committee, speaks during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Rep. Justin Ruffridge: Creating a road map to our shared future

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

An array of solar panels stand in the sunlight at Whistle Hill in Soldotna, Alaska, on Sunday, April 7, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Renewable Energy Fund: Key to Alaska’s clean economy transition

AEA will continue to strive to deliver affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy to provide a brighter future for all Alaskans.

Mount Redoubt can be seen acoss Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: An open letter to the HEA board of directors

Renewable energy is a viable option for Alaska

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, R-Nikiski, speaks in opposition to an executive order that would abolish the Board of Certified Direct-Entry Midwives during a joint legislative session on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 in Juneau, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Making progress, passing bills

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Priya Helweg is the deputy regional director and executive officer for the Office of the Regional Director (ORD), Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services, Region 10. (Image via hhs.gov)
Opinion: Taking action on the maternal health crisis

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among high-income countries

Heidi Hedberg. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska Department of Health)
Opinion: Alaska’s public assistance division is on course to serve Alaskans in need more efficiently than ever

We are now able to provide in-person service at our offices in Bethel, Juneau, Kodiak, Kenai, Homer and Wasilla

Sara Hondel (Courtesy photo)
Opinion: Alaskan advocate shines light on Alzheimer’s crisis

In the heart of the nation’s capital next week, volunteers will champion the urgent need for legislative action to support those affected by Alzheimer’s

Rep. Ben Carpenter, a Nikiski Republican, speaks during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Rep. Ben Carpenter: Clearing red tape on occupational licensing

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Most Read