PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo this week expressed disappointment with management of the R.I. Veterans Home, explaining it’s part of why she’s called in the R.I. National Guard to take stock of the home’s operations and finances.
The Veterans Home, which is grappling with money problems, has become the focus of growing criticism among residents in recent months, as the nursing home for wartime veterans has made a series of changes in services to offset a multimillion-dollar projected deficit.
On Tuesday, Raimondo laid some of the blame on management at the home, which is run by administrator Rick Baccus and overseen by R.I. Office of Veterans Services director Kasim Yarn, saying they could be doing a better job.
“I’m disappointed about the management at the home,” Raimondo said during a wide-ranging State House interview. “I’ve put a team in there … to say, ‘Come on guys, we can do better. Veterans deserve better.’”
Last month, the second-term governor called on R.I. Adjutant General Christopher Callahan to lead a team of budget officials in a review of operational and fiscal management at the nursing home.
Raimondo has tasked the group, dubbed “Tiger Team,” with finding a way to “humanely cut costs in ways that are consistent with other states and still do right by our veterans,” she said.
“I wish we didn’t have to do any of it, but at the end of the day I want the home to be there for veterans so we’re going through the whole list and doing our best,” she said.
The Veterans Home has already reduced the projected deficit to $2 million from nearly $3 million thanks to a variety of savings initiatives, including a shift in acuity-based staffing, changes to billing for rehabilitation services and a reduction in non-medical overtime.
In July, the home stopped covering occupational and physical therapy provided at the home, shifting the cost instead to private insurers and Medicare Part B.
“The state was paying for therapy services which could have been paid for through Medicare Part B, which residents already have,” Baccus told Target 12 earlier this month.
Another policy change was made last month, to no longer offer food to visiting family members and staff that’s prepared by the home.
Other cost-cutting measures are on the table, including a proposal to tap into the estates of veterans who died without wills.
Nearly 200 veterans pay 80% of their incomes to the long-term care facility, which opened in 2017 and cost state and federal taxpayers about $121 million to build.
State lawmakers have likewise scrutinized the finances at the home, including during a House Finance Subcommittee on Human Services hearing earlier this week. The Tiger Team is considering more cuts to the home, which are expected to come out by the end of next month.
“Let me just say this is brutal,” Raimondo said. “This is the absolute worst part of my job.”
Kim Kalunian contributed to this report.