Veterans Home Workers Fight To "Save The Vets"

Apr 6, 2013

Workers from the troubled Vermont Veterans Home have taken to the streets of Bennington.

They hope to enlist community support for what they see as a fight to save the state-run nursing facility.

On Friday afternoon, Veterans home workers and supporters were waving signs on all four corners of Bennington's main intersection.

The signs read, ‘Save the Vets' Home -- Listen to the front line workers.'

The workers have been saying for over a year that the facility is understaffed.

John Dunham is a nurse at the home.

"It's still a crisis," he says. "We just do not have enough staff to adequately take care of these veterans."

State officials and the home's administration, say staffing is well within federal and state guidelines.

Rachel Fields is vice president of the Vermont State Employees Association chapter that represents the vets home's 200 workers.

"We really love the work we do," said Fields. "And it's sad.  You meet the minimum for the LNAs on the floor but you still don't have time to answer call bells timely or to do the everyday little things, like sit with someone on-on-one and make them know they're not alone in the world."

Fields says the union is turning to the people of Bennington for support. Workers are circulating a petition, and knocking on doors.

"The Veterans Home for many reasons is a huge part of the community," says Fields. "It's one of the biggest employers."

In addition to more staff the petition calls for better financial management. The home projected a three and a half million dollar shortfall next year.

Lawmakers recently voted half that amount to keep the facility afloat.  Doug Gibson, a union spokesman, hopes more is coming.

"Hopefully," he said, "The legislature will come around  and put the extra money in to fully fund the hole."

The home has also seen repeated citations from Medicare and Medicaid, its biggest source of funds.  In September it narrowly escaped losing its federal certification. 

The legislature has set aside funds to study the home's problems.

Joe Krawzcyk, a former Bennington lawmaker and retired Army colonel, stepped in last fall as chairman of the Veterans' Home Trustees.  Krawczyk says he welcomes the study.

"Our books are open," Krawczyk says. "If we're doing something wrong tell us. We want to do everything we can to provide the best care we can for the residents we have in that home."

Krawczyk says one alternative might be to contract with a private company to run the home. Members of the union hope that won't happen.