Policy miscommunication jeopardizes veterans nursing homes

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Federal policy changes on construction and design of veterans nursing homes weren't communicated effectively, leaving the fate of some new facilities in limbo, according to state executives.

The policy changes hold providers to a more costly, stringent set of design standards known as the Community Living Centers Design Guide, instead of conventional construction guidelines.

The guide was first published as a regulation in 2001 and was amended last year, a federal official told the TC Palm. Despite its regulatory status, the guide itself claims it is “meant to be a guide, not a code or regulation.” Although state veterans homes are owned, operated and managed by the states, the facilities must be certified and surveyed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs each year to ensure they're up to VA standards.

At least three states said they received no notification of the change from the VA, while more may be “clueless about the sudden shift,” the Palm reported.

One of those states is Florida, where plans for a new veterans nursing home in Port St. Lucie have been put on hold after officials discovered the policy amendment through word of mouth in February. Officials were forced to resubmit their application for the facility in accordance with the CLC guide. Construction would also require an additional $20 million from the state and federal governments to adhere to the higher standards.

Fred Sganga, legislative officer of the National Association of State Veterans Homes and executive director of the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook, NY, said to his knowledge no state has received a formal letter about the policy change.

"We don't want to be held hostage by a design guide that doesn't recognize the state's ability to provide what they need for the veterans living in their state," Sganga told the Palm. On average, the guide's high standards will bring construction costs for veterans nursing homes 30% to 40% higher than conventionally built veterans facilities, he said.

Officials in Idaho and Rhode Island also said they received no notification of the changes until they contacted VA officials or through their own research, the Palm reported.