The federal government is poised to retract its promise to terminate funding to the Vermont Veterans’ Home.
Last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued the country’s second oldest home a “Notice of Termination,” which said the federal agency “will” decertify and cut funding to the home on Sept. 28. The $10 million to $12 million in federal funds would have accounted for more than half of the Bennington facility’s roughly $19 million operating budget.
Those cuts would have jeopardized the home of 137 veterans and spouses, as well as the jobs of about 250 employees.
Now, less than two weeks after the home failed its sixth federal survey this year, regulators have indicated that they’re planning to continue funding the home because the numerous violations dating back to March appear to be corrected.
The news broke at Gov. Peter Shumlin’s press conference earlier today at the Pavilion Building in Montpelier.
“Had we been denied our CMS funding, it would’ve been a $10 million disaster for Vermont taxpayers on an annual basis and a real challenge to get the dollars needed to give the care to the veterans who deserve it,” said Shumlin. “I’m pleased to announce that CMS has concluded that we have made the corrections necessary and that the funding will continue.”
When CMS was pressed about this new development, agency spokeswoman Courtney Jenkins said that no formal decisions have yet been made. The Vermont Division of Licensing and Protections carried out a survey of the facility yesterday and today to see if the nursing home had come into compliance with federal regulations it had previously violated.
“We’ve received from the survey authority the informal recommendation that deficiencies have been corrected,” she said. “So what we have to do is wait for the official notification. Once we get that notification, we will send an official letter and that letter should go out Friday. We plan to rescind the termination.”
Jenkins doesn’t foresee the state’s formal notification deviating from its informal one.
To deal with the violations as they began to compile this past summer, Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding brought in Commissioner of Human Resources Kate Duffy and Commissioner of Finance Jim Reardon to assess and manage the home’s situation.
At the governor’s press conference earlier today, Spaulding criticized the media for reporting on the federal government’s documented word as though the state of the facility’s funding was a “foregone conclusion.” He then defended the facility, writing off the violations as happenstance.
“It was almost like Murphy’s law, whatever could go wrong went wrong,” he said. “There were unanticipated events that were not the fault of the staff, they were not the fault of the board or the management, but happened at a time when we were under intense scrutiny by the federal government.”
Such events, which violated federal regulations, included but were not limited to: a licensed practical nurse punching and breaking the nose of an 82-year-old veteran on Sept. 11; a caretaker performing tasks she was unlicensed to perform; an incontinent patient sent to an appointment without a caretaker; a caretaker allegedly writing derogatory comments about two residents on their care forms; and numerous instances of insufficient staff levels.
Shumlin indicated during the presser that the facility has since fired several staff members and at least one administrator, although he did not divulge details of those dismissals. According to the Bennington Banner, assistant administrator Karen Woodcock was fired by the veterans’ home board last week.