OLYMPIA — Industrial hemp would be allowed to be grown in Washington state under a measure passed by the Senate.Senate Bill 5012 received unanimous support Wednesday in the Senate and now heads to the House for consideration. The measure authorizes the growing of industrial hemp as an agricultural activity in the state. It also directs Washington State University to study industrial hemp production in the state, with a report due to the Legislature by Jan. 14, 2016.Hemp, like marijuana, comes from the cannabis plant but has much less THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that makes people high. Washington voters passed Initiative 502 in November 2012 to legalize and regulate the recreational use of pot by adults over 21, and the first state-licensed pot stores opened last summer.
The Sitka Pioneer Home was the first such facility. It and others in Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage, Palmer and Fairbanks have lost staff due to budget cuts. (Photo by Emily Kwong, KCAW – Sitka)Alaska’s Pioneer Homes have stopped accepting new residents, at least for a while. It’s one more impact of state budget cuts.Listen nowThe state’s six homes usually serve about 440-450 Alaskans at any given time.State Pioneer Homes Division Director Vickie Wilson said reduced funding is dropping that number by about 30, or 7 percent.“They are beds that we are not filling because we don’t have adequate staff to be able to ensure good, safe care,” she said.Wilson’s agency has lost 30 positions, mostly because of attrition. And since senior care is labor-intensive, fewer people can be housed.That means the homes, three in Southeast and three in the Railbelt, can no longer accept new residents in the highest category of care. It’s called Level 3, and it’s pretty much like a nursing home, with 24-hour, hands-on assistance.Jacque Farnsworth and Jack Brandt play for JuneauPioneer Home residents earlier this year. (Photo by Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau)“Right at the moment, it’s all six of them. No one’s taking any of the level 3s right at this point,” she said.More than half of all residents, and a large number of applicants, are in that category. Two lower levels, different types of assisted-living care, require less staffing.Wilson said seniors seeking such care might have a chance to get a bed. But, probably not right away.“We would look carefully at their level of care and see if we could manage them with the staff that we have,” she said.“This is devastating,” said Ann Secrest, communications director for the Alaska branch of AARP, a nationwide senior advocacy group.She said Alaskans are living longer and staying at home as late as they can. But there comes a time when more care is required. So pioneer home cuts remove a much-needed option.“The majority of individuals are cared for at home. There are approximately 120,000 and 128,000 Alaskans who serve as unpaid family caregivers. So there’s going to be more of a burden put on those unpaid family caregivers throughout the state,” she said.Alaska, overall, falls far short of providing the care its seniors desire.Alaska Commission on Aging member Mary Shields said that’s in part because of demographics.The Ketchikan Pioneer Home is one of six in Alaska caring for older residents. (Photo by KRBD)“We have the fastest growing senior population in the nation, by percentage. There’s nothing much we can do about that,” she said.She said it’s no surprise pioneer homes are facing cutbacks. But she objects to those who say reductions don’t have to affect services.“Some people call it the low-hanging fruit. I don’t. We’ve already cut all of that off. We’re now into the mid-level branches,” she said.Residents, or their families, do pay for part of their care. Charges run from about $2,500 to $7,000 per month.The state considered turning the homes over to the private sector to save money. But it’s dropped that idea, though services such as pharmacies could still be privatized.Of course, beds open up as residents die. Pioneer Homes Director Wilson said 20 to 25 percent of beds become available each year.That could allow more new residents in. But Wilson said that’s only if funding remains the same.“Being a realist, as we take cuts, we will continue to have to consider that more beds will have to be cut,” she said.Even in better times, it’s hard to get into a pioneer home. As of mid-summer, close to 600 people were on the active waiting list.The inactive list, those waiting until they’re in greater need, is much larger.