Hospital district funding efforts to bring nursing home to Alpine

ALPINE — At last week’s meeting of the board of directors of the Big Bend Regional Hospital District (BBRHD), board members agreed to provide funding for a continued feasibility study aimed at bringing a much-needed nursing home to Alpine.

Recently-formed nonprofit Alpine Community Projects is spearheading the effort — which, if all goes according to plan, could bring skilled nursing and assisted living beds to the tri-county region in the next five years. 

The city has been without a nursing home since early 2012, when Alpine Valley Care Nursing Home abruptly shuttered due to financial difficulties. Now, the nearest nursing home for tri-county residents is in Fort Stockton, forcing families to separate and travel long distances to see their loved ones.

“It’s definitely needed in our community, in our area, not just Alpine,” said BBRHD Chairman Buddy Cavness. “You have Fort Davis, Presidio, Marfa, Sanderson, [and] you have one nursing home. It’s ridiculous. We have got to do better for our community.”

The board voted unanimously to provide up to $14,000 for a study that will hopefully lay the groundwork for such a project.

Alpine Community Projects has already completed a preliminary market analysis of the tri-county region, which found that by 2026, the area will be able to support 50 to 75 skilled nursing beds and 20 to 30 assisted-living beds. With the board’s funding, it will now undertake phase II of the analysis — a more in-depth study that will include an economic assessment and job market analysis, the presence of any direct competitors, and a market analysis detailing the demand for such a facility. The study is being prepared by PMD Advisory Services, which also prepared the preliminary study.

The effort is specifically aimed towards employing the “Green House” model, which sees clusters of smaller homes housing 10 to 12 individuals each in lieu of a larger facility — a “less institutional” and “more humane situation,” explained Kirsten Moody of Alpine Community Projects. No facilities using this model exist yet in Texas, said Moody.

“That model is wonderful, and we really hope that that will work,” said Moody. “If we can’t make that work, then we’ll shift gears and figure out something else, because it’s just so heartbreaking for people to have their family members go to Fort Stockton or Crain or Pecos, and then they can’t be part of the daily life.”

Once PMD begins the phase II feasibility study, it will take about six weeks to complete, said Moody. If the study concludes a nursing home in Alpine would be feasible, then Alpine Community Projects will begin searching for potential operators and financing.

“Once we have that more in-depth study, we can do more analysis on the operational costs and we can have a clearer idea of the size of the community that’s going to be sustainable,” said BBRHD Board President J.D. Newsom. “Then we can start working on: what is it going to take to build, to operate?”

There have been two efforts to bring a nursing home to Alpine since the 2012 closure, said Newsom — both failed. And though it was not immediately clear why those efforts fell through, Moody acknowledged the difficulty of getting a facility up and running in the area — staffing has been a challenge in the remote region, and Medicaid reimbursement is particularly low in the state of Texas, said Moody. 

“It’s hard to attract somebody out here,” said Moody. “The fact the other one wasn’t financially viable doesn’t make it real exciting for people to come in and take it on.” But that was now over a decade ago — Moody expressed optimism that nursing programs at both the local high school and at Sul Ross State University will help provide the necessary staffing. 

“It’s going to be hard, but I feel like we have a few things working for us this time,” she said.

Alpine is currently undergoing something of a revival when it comes to the availability of services that improve residents’ quality of life. This fall, the Alpine Independent School District will open a day care center — an effort that also involved Alpine Community Projects. Hospice care services have recently become available to Brewster County residents. 

The inclusion of a nursing home would make Alpine — and the surrounding region — a more welcome place for residents of all ages, who won’t have to fear an unwanted uprooting, said Newsom.

“I hear this a lot talking to folks about healthcare: they say Alpine is a great place to retire but not a place to grow old,” said Newsom. Hopefully, if this latest effort is successful, that will no longer be the case five years down the road.