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House Oversight calls for review of embattled R.I. Veterans Home

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – House lawmakers have called for an Oversight Committee hearing to review the embattled R.I. Veterans Home, which has become the focus of heightened scrutiny in recent months.

Rep. Patricia Serpa, a West Warwick Democrat who chairs the Oversight Committee, said she’s scheduling a meeting for Feb. 6 to try and get a better handle on what’s plaguing the long-term care facility for wartime veterans in Bristol.

“I want to know how we got here,” Serpa told Target 12. “The devil is in the details, and I have learned that many people in state government don’t pay attention to the details.”

The meeting was originally scheduled for Jan. 29, but Serpa said she will delay it a week after hearing from Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s office that a team put together to shore up operations at the home is expected to release a report by Jan. 31. (The governor’s office has not yet confirmed that date.)

The group, dubbed “Tiger Team,” was put together by Raimondo and is headed by the R.I. National Guard.

“I may change the focus based on the Tiger Team report,” Serpa said.

The Veterans Home has been grappling with money problems ever since the current fiscal year started last July. As a result, state officials have chipped away at various benefits offered to the residents, including a decision to stop providing meals to visiting family members and staff.

Similarly, the home stopped covering occupational and physical therapy, which was previously offered at the facility before the beginning of this fiscal year.

Most recently, in her proposed budget for fiscal year 2020-21, Raimondo has introduced a new plan to ask the residents to pay 100% of their monthly incomes to live at the home instead of the 80% they pay now.

In return, Raimondo aides said, the state would cover the cost of copays for occupational and physical therapy for residents and double their monthly stipend to $300 per month. The changes and new proposal will bring the home of about 200 veterans in line with other long-term care facilities across the region, Raimondo’s aides said last week.

But the idea has been met with sharp criticism from veterans living at the home, along with Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.

“Because it’s such an important constituency – people who have served us so hard at such a great cost – I will tell them they can rest assured that the General Assembly will remember your commitment and not do what’s proposed in this budget,” Mattiello said last week during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

Serpa said her committee will focus less on finances and more on existing operations and contracts at the home.

“When there are problems, it’s almost always with contracts,” she said.

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

Tim White contributed to this story.

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

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