PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic Gov. Gina Ramiondo’s proposal for R.I. Veterans Home residents to pay all of their income to live there is not being received well at the nursing home or on Smith Hill.
Rich Moniz, president of the R.I. Veterans Home Residents Council, told Target 12 the idea upset many of the 200 wartime veterans who live at the long-term care facility. Word of the proposed changes started spreading Thursday night after the details emerged as part of the governor’s $10.2 billion budget proposal, he added.
“You’re not a person in here anymore,” Moniz said. “You’re just a number.”
The governor has proposed closing a roughly $2 million deficit in the current fiscal year at the cash-strapped facility in part by asking residents to pay 100% of their income instead of 80% under the current plan.
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 compared to the current amount of $150 per month.
Moniz rejected the premise of the proposal.
“They’re not giving us anything because it’s our money to start with,” he said.
Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who will oversee vetting the budget in the coming months, likewise said he did not like the idea, adding he saw no reason to change the 80% cost to veterans “in any way, shape or form.”
“I don’t believe the government should be micromanaging the lives of our veterans,” he said Friday during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers. “They fought for us, they risked their lives for us in many cases, they should be able to retire and live in that home with dignity.”
The long-term nursing facility 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 occupation and physical therapy, which was previously offered at the facility before the beginning this fiscal year.
The idea that the state comes back now with an offer to cover copays related to the services they previously cut rings hollow to Moniz.
“It’s almost like it was planned,” he told Target 12. “They took the physical therapy from us knowing it was something we needed and liked, and now they’re waiving the copays like a carrot, saying, ‘If you want this, we need 100%.’”
Raimondo last month called on the R.I. National Guard to help come up with a plan to better operate the home. Her budget calls for $575,000 in savings through what state officials describe as more efficient staffing. It also includes a $450,000 cut to contract costs, such as janitorial services, which Raimondo has said have been part of the problem.
In a shift in how money is collected and spent at the home, the governor is also proposing that residents’ incomes go directly into a restricted fund earmarked specifically for the Veterans Home. That would part ways with the current funding mechanism in which 80% of residents’ income goes to the General Fund while only 20% goes into the restricted fund.
The governor’s proposed funding for the veterans home this year of $24.4 million – a combination of general revenue and new money funneled to the restricted account – would total a 6.5% increase compared to what she proposed last year. But it still falls about 1% short of the $24.7 million it will require to pay for costs in the current fiscal year.
Whether any of that financial maneuvering will come about, however, largely depends on Mattiello, who said he was adamantly opposed.
“Because it’s such an important constieuncy – 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,” he said during Newsmakers.
State officials have repeatedly said many of the changes are to bring policies into line with other veterans nursing homes in the region and nursing homes in the state.
Moniz, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and has lived at the home since 2015, said that line of thinking counters what they were promised when the moved into the facility after it was built in 2017.
“When they built this home they told us we were special,” he said. “You might as well take the word ‘Veterans’ off the sign and just make it ‘Rhode Island Home.'”