Tuesday August 20, 2013

BENNINGTON -- The Vermont Veterans Home passed without demerit an expected but unannounced inspection Monday morning by the state Division of Licensing and Protection, said Joseph Krawczyk, president of the home's board of trustees.

Veterans home officials had expected the inspection by Aug. 26. At stake was a vital portion of the home's funding from the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. In fact, had the home not passed this inspection, it would have been closed within 90 days -- and 240 jobs lost -- because the state does not have the funds to keep it open by itself, Krawczyk said.

Everyone at the home pushed hard to make sure the facility passed the inspection, he said.

Now that the home is back in compliance and there is no danger of losing this funding, the home will be moving on, Krawczyk said, looking toward Sen. Bernie Sanders' goal to make the home the best in the nation. Sanders is the chairman of the U.S. Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.

The home also recently passed without demerit an inspection by the Veterans Administration, which had complimentary things to say about the facility, Krawczyk said.

The home was first threatened last year with loss of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services funding after inspectors identified several deficiencies. The state Division of Licensing and Protection regulates nursing facilities on behalf of the CMS.


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That federal funding -- which accounts for much of the home's $21 million budget -- was preserved after administrators and staff rallied to pass a last-chance inspection in September. New deficiencies -- which home officials have said were minor -- were identified at the home over the last several months, again putting the home in danger of losing its CMS funding. Monday's inspection, which Krawczyk said began around 8 a.m., puts this danger to rest.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Sanders welcomed the successful outcome of the inspection.

"I am very pleased that CMS found the Vermont Veterans' Home ‘in compliance' and that federal funding will not be withdrawn from that facility," Sanders said. "As chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, I am pleased at the progress we are seeing at the veterans' home. I am committed to making sure the men and women who have served our country in uniform receive the benefits they have earned and deserve. The veterans of our state and region are entitled to the best quality nursing care possible, and that is what the veterans' home must provide."

In a statement, Gov. Peter Shumlin said "this is welcome news and reflects hard work from the management, staff, and board to ensure that the Veterans Home complies with federal regulations in delivering quality care to our aging veterans and their families."

Sanders on Aug. 8 hosted a meeting in Montpelier with senior officials in Shumlin's administration and representatives from the home, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and CMS to look at ways to prevent an interruption in the home's funding.

The Veterans Home still faces significant financial challenges. The administration, lawmakers, and administrators at the home are facing a projected $3.5 million deficit at the end of the current fiscal year. Several issues -- led by a low patient census -- have contributed to revenues falling behind expenses.

Shumlin acknowledged this in his statement, "Now our focus must broaden to include returning the veterans home to financial stability, and I look forward to achieving this with the help of the board, the Vermont State Employees Association, and the Legislature."

To increase the home's census, and thus revenues, the home's board of trustees at its Aug. 14 meeting, announced the hiring of a marketing firm based in Arlington. Goals include increasing inquiries and prospective visits; increasing the home census -- 137 residents as of last week -- and outpatient services; and developing a waiting list.

To reach these goals, the firm will create a marketing strategy and promotional materials to reach and attract Vermont veterans.

At the Aug. 14 meeting, Krawczyk said in addition that candidates for the position of marketing manager for the home -- created but not filled last year -- are now being evaluated.