Legislators express fear for future of Vermont Veterans Home
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | February 19,2013
Patrick McArdle / Staff Photo
A sign is shown outside the Vermont Veterans Home in Bennington.
BENNINGTON — State Sen. Richard Sears said Monday he had serious concerns about the future of the 200 jobs at the Vermont Veterans Home because of what he’s expecting to be a $4 million deficit in this year’s budget.
“If I told you that we’re in danger of losing 200 jobs in Bennington, you’d be upset,” he said at a legislative breakfast on Monday morning. “You’d wonder why we aren’t doing something about it, and those 200 jobs are at the Vermont Veterans Home, folks. ... When I look at that budget gap, I say, ‘What are we gonna do about it?’ How could I come back here and say, ‘Hey, folks, sorry. Veterans home’s closed. Just lost 200 jobs.”
Sears said legislators had met with officials from the Vermont Veterans Home, the only state-run nursing home for veterans in Vermont, and heard about their concerns over a potential $2 million gap. However, Sears said as he looked over the budget, he found some items missing, like overtime and temporary employees, and came to believe the gap was closer to $3.5 million or $4 million.
Joseph Krawczyk Jr., chairman of the veterans home’s board of trustees, a retired U.S. Army colonel and the chairman of the Bennington Select Board, said the gap in this year’s $19 million budget has a number of different causes: The home has had a shortage of residents, and the approval of federal Medicaid payments on the behalf of residents who want to live there have sometimes been delayed by months.
This year’s budget assumed 150 residents and when he and Melissa Jackson, administrator of the home, went to Montpelier to discuss the crisis, the home’s census was about 120.
Some of the problems at the home can be traced to 2011, when a number of inspections over a series of months found deficiencies in patient care. The home almost lost the ability to accept Medicare and Medicaid funding and during that period, the home suspended new admissions.
There have been some positive steps. The home’s officials set a goal of 140 residents and Krawczyk said there were now 123 people at the home with another three expected to move in soon.
Krawczyk said the home had also raised the rates for private payers by 4 percent recently and stopped admitting people, even though they’re veterans, who don’t have the ability to pay.
Sears said he has taken action by adding $20,000 to the budget adjustment act to pay for a study that will look at the viability of the veterans home and suggest some steps that could be taken to address the financial shortfall. He admitted the recommendations that result from the study, which he’s hoping will be complete by Nov. 15 or earlier, “may not be all that popular.”
“The goal is, how can we keep a veterans home functional in this day and age when we’ve already got an overabundance of nursing home beds in Bennington,” he said.
The home’s financial health is an ongoing concern. Krawczyk said there was also a potential shortfall in 2014 because of expected increases in the health care provider taxes and reductions in Vermont’s global commitment funding.
As someone with ties to town government and the veterans home, Krawczyk said he was concerned about the home’s future and potential loss of jobs as well.
“If we can’t get the money, we can’t operate. ... We’re concerned about the 200 jobs. I’m concerned about the 200 jobs. Everybody in Bennington better be concerned but we’re also concerned about not having a veterans home,” he said.