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Facing deficit, RI Veterans Home eyes estates of residents who died there

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The R.I. Veterans Home on Tuesday unveiled a plan to close a nearly $3 million budget hole, including a proposal to tap into the estates of veterans who died without wills.

The nursing home for wartime veterans, which operates under the umbrella of the R.I. Office of Veterans Services, is making a series of changes to operations as it continues to grapple with money problems.

The so-called “corrective action plan,” which was shared with Target 12 ahead of a House Finance Subcommittee on Human Services hearing Tuesday, shows the agency has already reduced its projected deficit by $900,000 thanks to a shift in acuity-based staffing, changes to billing for rehabilitation services and a reduction in non-medical overtime.

To close the remaining $2 million deficit, state officials have proposed a handful of other cost-saving initiatives that could amount to $653,389.

Most of the money would come from an initiative to file court claims for the estates of veterans who died without wills. Officials estimate the Veterans Home could file claims in eight estate cases to bring in about $533,811.

“Right now we have veterans that were residents of the Veterans Home, they are deceased and they have no living will or power of attorney, so it was just held in probate,” Veterans Director Kasim Yarn told Target 12. “It’s an opportunity for us to put together, to identify what those funds are and how we can access those funds utilizing proper procedure.”

The new effort to come up with extra money, which has been used for much smaller sums of money in past, raised eyebrows among some lawmakers during the House Finance subcommittee hearing.

“I could see that being an issue,” said Chairman Alex Marszalkowski, D-Cumberland.

Additionally, the state has called on the R.I. National Guard to lead a team of budget officials in a review of operational and fiscal management at the nursing home, where veterans pay 80% of their monthly income to live. The group has been dubbed the “Tiger Team.”

“It’s a metaphor for people getting after it,” R.I. Adjutant General Christopher Callahan told Target 12. “We’ve got several veterans on the team as well. Keeping it kind of veteran-centric, that was one of the charges for us.”

In his letter, Kasim described a plan to renegotiate the nursing home’s current cleaning contract with Heritage Healthcare, which would reduce this fiscal year’s budget by $75,000. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers last month that the cleaning budget was among the issues fueling cost overruns at the home.

“The cleaning contract is much more than we thought it would be because it’s a much bigger facility,” Raimondo said at the time.

The veterans agency estimates the nursing home could come up with another $44,578 this fiscal year by reducing its processing backlog for drug reimbursements from the federal government.

The effort to balance its budget comes at a time when the Veterans Home has already implemented other cost-cutting measures at the home. As Target 12 previously reported, the nursing home at the beginning of the fiscal year stopped covering occupational and physical therapy, which was expected to save the home $575,000.

More recently, the nursing home decided to no longer offer food to visiting family members and staff at the home, although there was no cost-saving analysis done to determine how much that would save.  

The Tiger Team is expected to come up with more cost-savings ideas by Jan. 31.

“The Office of Veterans Services will provide additional information related to corrective actions and updated cost projections through its second and third quarter reports,” Yarn wrote in his letter.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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