Nine Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs employees have exited
Nine Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs employees have resigned or been terminated since Christmas from their posts at the state’s new nursing home for veterans.
The departures from the Arkansas State Veterans Home at North Little Rock include the director of nursing, recreational activities supervisor, minimum data set coordinator, business office manager and five nurses.
Two registered nurses left before the home accepted its first resident Jan. 31. Five other employees resigned and two supervisors were fired after the first veteran moved in, according to information provided by the agency and obtained through Arkansas Freedom of Information Act requests.
The high employee turnover left the facility with vacancies in supervisory positions as it worked to attain certification from the state Office of Long Term Care to begin admitting residents covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
Currently, about 20 applicants are on the waiting list for admission into the home, Sarah Jones, the agency’s public affairs director, said Monday.
Six residents are living in the home, and the department is awaiting a “surprise survey” from the Office of Long Term Care to admit more residents, Jones said.
The employee departures, Jones said, have not negatively impacted the home’s operation or preparation for regulators’ inspections.
“We deliberately overstaffed,” Jones said. “We anticipated challenges because this is a new concept, so we built in padding to make sure the veterans were taken care of.”
The Arkansas State Veterans Home at North Little Rock is the first in the state built from the ground up with veterans in mind. It employs a “small home” design with eight cottages housing 12 residents each to remove the institutionalized feel of traditional nursing homes. Less than one percent of long-term-care facilities in the country are “small home” designs.
The employee turnover at the home also coincided with a shakeup atop the agency. Former Director Matt Snead announced his resignation Feb. 10, saying he wanted a break to pursue some personal goals.
His resignation followed allegations of wrongdoing from within the agency about his personal relationship with Personnel Director Sara Terry. Snead and Terry have acknowledged the relationship, but they denied any wrongdoing.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed Nate Todd, former chief financial officer at the central Arkansas VA hospital, to lead the agency beginning last week.
The Office of Long Term Care declined to comment on whether it was common for new long-term-care facilities to experience staff turnover at rates similar to the new veterans home because it does not collect that type of data. Several nursing home associations did not return requests for comment.
Jones said state guidelines require only one licensed nurse per shift for the home’s current population, and that certified nursing assistants aren’t required until the facility reaches 10 residents. Nonetheless, the state VA employs 12 nursing assistants and nine nurses at the home.
Asked why so many employees chose to leave the agency, Jones said that about 80 percent of the nurses hired by Rebecca Clark, the former director of nursing who was fired Feb. 27, lacked long-term-care experience and they struggled to adapt to the home’s setting. After several resignations, the department made past long-term-care experience a prerequisite for working at the home.
Clark, reached by phone Monday, said she “looked at a lot of people with longterm-care experience.” She blamed her termination and the resignations of several other home staff on the agency’s assistant director for veterans homes, Kathie Gately, saying she created a toxic work environment.
“It’s a mess out there,” Clark said. “That’s why everyone is leaving.”
The department declined to make Gately available for an interview Monday.
Clark was fired after becoming the subject of several internal investigations, including an allegation of verbal abuse involving a resident and intimidating a co-worker, according to records obtained under the state Freedom of Information Act.
When notified she was being suspended by a human resources representative and Lindsey Clyburn, the home’s administrator, she lashed out.
“If they want to f*** with me, then I will f*** with them right back. They are going to see Becky come out,” Clark said, according to the termination letter.
Clark was fired 10 days later.
Carrie Amber Havens, the recreational activities supervisor, was fired March 8 for poor job performance, excessive absences and unauthorized overtime, according to her personnel file, released under the state Freedom of Information Act. In her termination letter, Clyburn wrote that she put the home’s “survey readiness at risk.”
Havens, hired in November, was still on probation. Reached by phone Monday, she declined to comment.
About half of the resignation letters of past employees at the new home were released to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Monday after a public records request, but they offered little insight about why nurses chose to leave. Those that were provided Monday mostly contained only a sentence or two.
The only letter that went beyond notifying the agency of resignation expressed dissatisfaction with Gately.
Gately oversees the state’s veterans homes in North Little Rock and Fayetteville from the agency’s headquarters across the street from the State Capitol. The homes’ day-to-day operations are managed by two on-site administrators.
Agency officials plan to slowly admit residents to the North Little Rock home as it receives its remaining certifications. They expect to soon begin accepting residents on Medicare and Medicaid.
Then, the home’s staff will apply for accreditation from the federal VA, which would begin paying for eligible veterans and their dependents. The agency hopes to receive federal VA clearance by July.
The facility is projected to reach capacity in August 2018.
“Our focus continues to be on providing our residents with the quality of care they deserve, and we’ll continue to work to ensure that’s the case,” said Jones, the agency spokesman.