Nine Arkansas Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs em­ploy­ees have ex­ited

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - HUNTER FIELD

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.

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