In an effort to better care, state veterans homes head in new direction

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's five military veterans homes are under new supervision in an attempt to improve care and accountability and address the changing needs of veterans.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's five military veterans homes are under new supervision in an attempt to improve care and accountability and address the changing needs of veterans.

A reorganization plan that was an-nounced on Monday gives the state Department of Veterans Affairs control of the five homes. It abolishes the volunteer Veterans Homes Board weakened as one of the homes piled up regulatory violations and claims of poor care.

Acting on advice from a commission that studied the issue, Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Monday shifted oversight of the five homes to the Veterans Affairs Department and, specifically, to a new deputy commissioner.

Also, a new Veterans Health Care Council of medical professionals and veterans service group representatives will advise the agency on how best to care for veterans.

The homes are in Minneapolis, Fergus Falls, Silver Bay, Luverne and Hastings.


In February, Pawlenty created the Veterans Long Term Care Advisory Commission to study the system and make recommendations on how to improve oversight and patient care. That came after repeat regulatory problems at the Minneapolis Veterans Home between July 2005 and earlier this year resulted in 66 correction orders and fines totaling $42,300.

Concerns about poor patient care focused on the Minneapolis facility, and the other four sites generally have received good marks.

The facilities and the new Veterans Health Care Council must be led by "people who are not just well-intentioned volunteers, but have deep and serious credentials running health care delivery systems," Pawlenty said.

Two-thirds of Minnesota's 450,000 veterans are under age 65, and the number of young veterans is growing as troops return from war duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their needs differ from older veterans, and the commission recommends the state find ways to address that.

"For us to not step forward to support these young people in whatever way it may take, in new ways, would not be right," said Dale Thompson, the commission's chairman and president of Duluth-based Benedictine Health System.

The recommendations include:

n Making the veterans homes "centers" for care, rather than traditional nursing homes, that provide varying levels of assistance to veterans.

n Hiring a clinical director, such as a licensed physician, at each facility.


n Providing new housing options for veterans.

n Working closely with federal veterans medical centers, including in Fargo, to provide better access to services.

n Developing a score card to rate the facilities' performance.

The reorganization plan drew praise from a key Minnesota House member on veterans issues. Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, who is chairman of a committee handling veterans affairs funding, said more accountability was needed. Under the reorganization, Juhnke's committee will set spending for the veterans homes, which in 2007 had a $70 million budget.

Acting on some of the report's recommendations likely will require more funding, lawmakers and commission members said. Those proposals could come as early as during the 2008 legislative session and may be met favorably by lawmakers.

"Politically, the public is demanding that we do take care of these folks," Juhnke said.

State veterans homes previously were under the direction of the Veterans Affairs Department until the late 1980s, when poor management led to the creation of the volunteer Veterans Homes Board, which Pawlenty eliminated Monday.

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