CalVet report outlines several potential fates for Barstow veterans home
By MARTIN ESTACIO | Daily Press, Victorville, Calif. | Published: February 8, 2021
VICTORVILLE, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — The Veterans Home of California in Barstow could look very different in the future, with potential changes on the table that include reducing the number of staffed beds to fewer than half its current number.
State officials, however, say the cut will place the facility more in line with its demand, as it already struggles to fill budgeted beds.
Plans and recommendations for the home were outlined in a report from the California Department of Veterans Affairs, or CalVet, last week.
The report comes after the veterans home was slated for closure as part of Gov. Gavin Newsom's revised budget in May of last year.
State officials argued at the time that the closure would cut costs and help cover a $54.3 billion budget deficit.
But community members and elected officials opposed the shuttering, with thousands attending rallies to save the home.
In June, the home was spared in a final budget that included language from then-33rd District Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear, that required CalVet to hold stakeholder meetings and provide a report for the home's future.
On Wednesday, Obernolte — who now represents California's 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives — applauded the release of the Feb. 1 report.
"Our veterans sacrificed everything to fight for our freedoms, which is why I have made it my mission to stop Sacramento's attempt to try to close the Barstow Veterans home," he said. "Our veterans deserve the care and respect their service has earned, and I will continue to fight for them and ensure they have a place to call home here in our community."
First opened in 1996, the veterans home provides both skilled nursing services and a domiciliary program that is essentially room and board.
Although capable of housing 400 veterans, the facility is only budgeted and staffed for 220 beds, which state officials said they already had trouble filling. In September, a survey found only about 142 residents lived at the home.
An assessment of the eight state-run veterans homes in January 2020 found that Barstow's failed to meet four of five criteria, such as veteran need and proximity to Veterans Affairs care.
A CalVet study showed that most San Bernardino County veterans live in the city of San Bernardino or the Riverside area, while the nearest VA hospital is located in Loma Linda — 90 minutes away from the Barstow home.
For more medically-vulnerable residents, the trip can be a "significant hardship," according to the report.
And despite the veterans home's proximity to several military bases, CalVet officials said service members at the installations were "unlikely to be appropriate candidates for admission" given that the facility is designed and licensed for geriatric long-term care.
CalVet officials recommended several options for the home in the report, three of which were proposed in January 2020 and appeared to be the most favorable: Eliminating the domiciliary program, expanding the skilled nursing facility and converting an intermediate-care facility to a system that allows veterans more independence.
The home's skilled nursing facility — which provides 24-hour care and therapy — has always been in high demand and has a list of veterans waiting to be admitted, according to CalVet. If approved, SNF beds would increase from 40 to 60.
Residents in the home's intermediate-care facility — which provides more moderate nursing support — would be transferred to either the SNF or a newly created Residential Care Facility for the Elderly, or RCFE.
An RCFE is an assisted-living program that provides residents with limited support for daily activities. CalVet officials said ICF-level care is rare, "unsustainable and archaic," adding that patients are better served in the other two facilities.
If approved, 60 ICF beds would be converted to a 31-bed, private room RCFE.
Overall, the three recommendations would result in 220 budgeted beds being reduced to 91. Although the changes would bring a savings of $900,000 through reduced salaries and wages, state officials said the home could also lose $3.9 million in potential revenue from the loss of 129 beds.
Other recommendations included enacting the three measures separately, continuing the home's operations as normal or closing the facility altogether.
CalVet noted that the intent of the report was only to inform. They said it "does not dictate, future planning for the Barstow Home."
The report included comments from residents of the Barstow home, who advocated on its behalf. One resident, identified as an Army veteran named James, said he was from Barstow and that his family is in the city, adding, "This is my home."
"This place is just right, great weather year-round, good people," James wrote. "I don't like a crowded city, it's better here with the wide open spaces."
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