Budget Crunch – California to Reduce Capacity for Veterans’ Nursing Homes

San Diego Union Tribune

January 26, 2008 – Thanks to the state budget crisis, John Rains may soon lose his bunkmate.
Rains, 84, served in the Army Air Corps’ Pacific campaign during World War II. For the past four years, the Missouri native has lived at the 400-bed Veterans Home of California-Chula Vista.

“You never get to know a guy until you live with him,” Rains joked yesterday.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a 10 percent across-the-board budget cut in state spending to cope with California’s yawning budget deficit, estimated at $14 billion.

Administrators at the eight-year-old veterans home – one of three operated by the California Department of Vterans Affairs – told Lt. Gov. John Garamendi yesterday that to achieve such savings, they are planning to reduce the facility’s capacity.

Through attrition, they will cut the patient census from the current 359 to about 300, said Jane Bergman, the home’s interim administrator. The downsizing, along with accompanying cuts in staffing, is expected to achieve most of the financial savings.

“We want to make sure the care (patients) are getting isn’t going to suffer,” said J.P. Tremblay, deputy secretary of communications for the VA department.

Garamendi had not previously visited the spacious facility, which sits on 25 acres atop a hill off Telegraph Canyon Road east of Interstate 805. The home is far different from the institutional nursing homes of years ago that more closely resembled hospitals.

Its well-lit lobby is painted in shades of purple, pink and aqua. Couches surround a fireplace. A framed poster print of a Purple Heart medal hangs above the mantel.

“I am very impressed with this facility,” Garamendi said. “This is really quite spectacular.”

But he expressed worry about the state’s budget battles. Garamendi, a Democrat, said the Republican governor’s proposal is only a starting point for discussion.

“We’ll see if we can deal with the budget issues,” Garamendi said. “We’ve got a tussle ahead of us.”

He is worried, too, that expected cuts to the Medi-Cal program might magnify the financial challenges for the veterans home. However, Tremblay said, Medi-Cal funds make up less than 1 percent of the home’s $28 million budget.

In November, legislators grilled Veterans Affairs officials about some defects lying beneath the Chula Vista home’s modern facade. The biggest issue: dry rot in the walls of showers throughout the facility.

Since then, Tremblay said, the state Assembly has approved $2.9 million to repair the showers and several other items over the next 18 months starting in March. That money already is appropriated, he said, and won’t be affected by the fiscal crunch.

Tremblay said the department hopes to recover some of the $2.9 million by collecting a bond posted by the building contractor, which has gone out of business since constructing the veterans home.

The Chula Vista facility is one of three operated by the VA department; the others are in Barstow and Yountville.

Tremblay said facilities totaling 500 beds are under construction in west Los Angeles, Lancaster and Ventura. Those sites are expected to open late next year.

In addition, construction will begin this year on a 120-to 140-bed home in Fresno and a 60-bed home in Redding, with completion expected by 2010.

Money for the new homes had been budgeted previously.

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