Getting more residents to choose Indiana Veterans’ Home rather than nursing facilities in their hometowns is another challenge Sharp faces as the chief administrator. And it may not be easy to overcome given the age, size and location of the home.
Bradford Slagle, a Michigan state veterans home administrator and president of the National Association of State Veterans Homes, said some states, such as Wisconsin, are building smaller homes in locations where families can more easily visit their veterans “and they are filling them.”
Ray Miller, 91, uses his walker to move around. A pilot who served in World War II, he calls himself a “newcomer,” having lived at the home about two years.
He said his family had reservations about his move from Indianapolis, but Miller persisted, saying he was impressed with the home. His family finally agreed, he said.
“It’s the best thing to happen,” Miller said of his move. “They can come and go and not worry about me. It’s been a blessing for us.”
“She’s a person that pays attention to detail,” he said.
State Sen. Ron Alting, R-Lafayette, is familiar with the home’s rocky past. An elected leader who’s closely followed the developments at the home, he’s received plenty of feedback about how previous administrators were unwilling to listen to residents’ concerns.
Alting said he’s pleased with Sharp’s appointment and said he’s already heard positive comments from residents, staff and family members.
Among the challenges Sharp faces, perhaps the most difficult will be to improve the Medicare rating, which is based on surveys - usually done once a year - by state health inspectors. The ratings are based on an average of three inspections, so incremental improvements in performance don’t show up immediately.
“As with any health care facility, there is also room for improvement,” Sharp said. “We will continue to focus on providing the best possible care for our veterans and their spouses.
“I’m pleased that we rank highly in important areas, such as immunizations,” she added.
Slagle, a nonveteran administrator, said the pressure on nursing home administrators to meet myriad state and federal regulations is intense. The larger the home, the easier it is to stumble and fall, he said.
“If you have 200 veterans, you have 200 opportunities for failure every minute of the day.” He said he wasn’t familiar with the conditions at Indiana Veterans’ Home.
Sharp inherits a home with a tarnished reputation. While the previous full-time superintendent focused on improving the home’s infrastructure, health care slipped. State inspections revealed numerous deficiencies that jeopardized residents’ health, such as missed medications and infections that went untreated.