Administrator: Veterans home in good shape two months after funding crisis
BENNINGTON — The Vermont Veterans Home is doing well two months after averting a possible funding loss which could have closed the home, but it continues to struggle with staffing issues that forced the home to spend about $100,000 more than budgeted in October, according to Melissa Jackson, administrator of the home.
Speaking at the first meeting of the home’s board of trustees since the Medicare and Medicaid funding crisis, Jackson said the home had one visit since the board had last met, based on a complaint made in November, but no deficiencies were found. Jackson said credit was largely due to the nursing staff who quickly developed and implemented a plan to correct the problem.
Earlier this year, a series of inspections over a number of months had found a number of deficiencies, and while some deficiencies were corrected, new ones were identified during follow-up site visits.
In September, the home received notification from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that the home would lose its access to Medicare and Medicaid funding, which makes up about $12 million of the home’s annual $19 million budget, by Sept. 28. A last-minute inspection found the home had made enough improvement that it could continue to operate.
However, Jackson said that while relations had improved between the union and administrators, there are still issues with staffing. At a public meeting in July, nurses represented by the Vermont State Employee Association complained that the veterans home in Bennington, which is the only state-run nursing home for veterans in Vermont, was understaffed but Jackson and other administrators said at least part of that problem was a persistently high rate of people calling out.
On Wednesday, Jackson said the call-out rate for October was about 10.25 percent, an increase from September’s rate of 7.85 percent. As a result, the home in October spent almost $60,000 bringing in outside nurses and overtime was over budget for the month by more than $40,000.
While one of the concerns raised in July was the way the schedule was created, a new scheduling method, approved by a vote of the staff, will be implemented in January. Jackson said she hoped it would reduce the number of people calling out.
Joseph Krawczyk Jr., the chairman of the board of trustees, said he had told union leaders that he was not going to be willing to look at hiring more staff until the call-out rate drops. Jackson said she would be satisfied to see it cut in half to about 5 percent, although she said she thinks the national average is a little bit lower than that.
Administrators had many positive comments about the staff as well. Christine Cullinane, director of nursing services at the home, said several nurses had been very engaged and proactive in making suggested improvements, some of which had already been implemented.
The home also has several longtime staff members, like nursing support staff members, Tammy Lorette and Jackie Paddock, who have worked there for 25 years. The board of trustees is looking at ways to recognize significant staff anniversaries and employees who find ways to improve care, Krawczyk said.
Cullinane said the home is expecting new medical equipment and staff are creating new levels of oversight, all designed to improve care and prevent a recurrence of what happened in September.
“We pulled off a miracle (in September) and we are not going to revisit that time period again. I expect excellence from everyone,” she said.
After the meeting, Krawczyk said his faith in the home was so strong, he is planning to do his physical therapy there after getting a right knee replacement next week.
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