By Senator Alice Nitka, Windsor County, February 17, 2012
It’s hard to believe that Vermont had a “nursing home” in 1887 but indeed we did and the first patient was a Civil War soldier who arrived there on May 18th of that year. He was referred to as an inmate at the time rather than a patient but his needs were likely to have been the same as many of today’s residents. The facility is the Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington which continues today as a skilled nursing facility. The property before becoming a home for soldiers had been a home for destitute women and children and was a self contained working farm. In its earliest years, one hundred sixty soldiers resided there and it continued as a working farm while soldiers received care there. The numbers are not very different today as the home has 171 beds as well as an eight bed residential care unit.
Persons eligible for admission to the Home are Veterans, their spouses and Gold Star parents from any state with Vermonters receiving preference. Twenty per cent of the patients are from NY state. There are openings and the Home is recruiting in order to meet its budget. The majority of the residents are male and the current average age is 88 years old. Residents are more medically complex than those in privately run nursing homes. The challenges to deal with are a higher rate of alcohol and drug abuse; post traumatic stress disorder; mental health issues as well as behavioral issues including aggressive behaviors. Little or no family involvement places many of the patients at greater risk for a negative outcome also. There are no medical marijuana registered users at the facility as the doctors serving there are federal VA docs and prescribing such would be a violation of federal law. The Home is staffed by 216 state employees. The Alzheimer’s Unit is internationally recognized and respected and can accommodate 77 patients in various stages of dementia. The Home is Medicare and VA certified and is a teaching facility for the VT College of Nursing, Union Univ. Albany College of Pharmacy and the College of St. Joseph and State Univ. NY at Albany Social Work programs. Rooms are either singles or doubles and with the new geo-thermal system that is now up and running (with some costly “glitches” still being ironed out) each room has individual controls for heat and air conditioning. The Home is working toward implementing an electronic medical records system. On another electronic note, a grant was received for IPods for the Music and Memory Program. They are being used as part of a research project to determine if music helps to reduce negative behaviors and the need for psychotropic medications for some dementia patients. And, “Yes”, the Deer Park is still there for those of you who remember visiting it as a child. Consider going again and visiting a Vet you know.
The budget for all this is $19 million. This year with a cut in Medicare funding, the Home is receiving $150,000 less in funds. Medicare reimbursement per day is $327, VT Medicaid is $245, VA for a person with a service connected disability is $337 and a private pay patient is charged $270.