Veterans Home In Danger Of Losing Federal Funding

09/12/12 5:50PM By Susan Keese

VPR/Susan Keese
Vets home caregivers Dawn Keus and John Dunham await their turn to speak, along with Jim Hewitt, the Resident Council President.

The Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington could be forced to close if it can't satisfy federal and state standards within two weeks.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services says it will terminate the home's certification and funding unless recurring deficiencies are fixed by September 28th.

Trustees at the state-run nursing home say Medicaid and Medicare funds represent 70 percent of its budget. That number includes a state appropriation, which would also end if the home's certification is rescinded.

Board Treasurer Mike LeBoeuf says the home would lose about a million dollars a month if that happened.

 "And as far as I can see, the nursing home cannot sustain a million-dollar-a-month loss," LeBoeuf told trustees at a meeting at the home Wednesday. He added, "I think my finance team agrees with me when I say that I don't' know how far we can go."

Board members vowed to work with staff to correct the deficiencies within the allotted two weeks.

But the board and staff disagree about what's behind the problems. Caregivers say they're often required to work 16-hour double shifts. They say they're often stretched too thin to provide proper care.

Mark Mitchell is the executive director of the Vermont State Employees Union, which represents caregivers at the Veterans Home.

 "We're all committed to making this home work," Mitchell told state officials and the home's trustees. "We've got a crisis here right now: we don't have enough nurses and caregivers in the building. Last month when we had our community meeting, there were 177 eight-hour shifts left unfilled. That's got to be fixed."

State Human Resources Commissioner Kate Duffy agreed with the trustees that the home has more than enough caregivers, but needs better scheduling, so that all shifts, including nights and weekends, are staffed equally.

Jim Reardon, Vermont's Director of Budget and Finance, says most of the citations are not related to the number of staff available.

The state of Vermont has hired a consultant to help address the problems.

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