New Ind. Veterans’ Home chief aims to improve care

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For a resident living in a nursing facility, there are three shifts of caregivers per day, meaning up to 21 different people caring for one resident in a week, Smothers said. And if caregivers don’t get to know a resident, they can’t know what is abnormal.

“That’s not providing quality care,” Smothers said. “Things aren’t caught early, and (that) impacts overall health.”

Sharp said that when she took over as interim and then full-time director of nursing in 2013, reducing staff turnover and increasing training were her priorities.

One change aimed at staff retention is a program that enables new employees to become certified nurse aides while working at the home. New hires spend two weeks in the classroom, then go out onto the floor, Sharp said.

They are paid during training and tested by Ivy Tech Community College, so their training is universal, Sharp said, and they are familiar with standards of care at the home from the start.

Currently, there are about 540 employees at the home, said Melissa Templeton, marketing director. That includes 250 full-time state employees; 140 are full-time on the nursing staff. The remainder are contracted employees who provide housekeeping, security, nursing services, and other services.

The resident population has declined in recent years. The number of residents in certified comprehensive care beds has decreased from 224 in 2009 to 179 in 2013, according to state reports.

Sharp said she would like to reverse that trend. Part of the challenge, in addition to improving the quality of care, is responding to the changing veteran population.

The population of World War II veterans that once formed the bulk of residents at the nation’s veterans homes is rapidly declining. Potential new residents are younger, with problems different than their older counterparts, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and homelessness, according to Randy Fairchild, Tippecanoe County veterans service officer.

Fairchild, too, is concerned about the decline in population at Indiana Veterans’ Home. If the population were to continue to slide, the facility could be in danger of closing.

Indiana Veterans’ Home is the only Indiana long-term care facility dedicated to veterans care. It’s a unique place where veterans can rub elbows with other veterans on a daily basis.

“They can tell war stories. It’s that atmosphere of being with other veterans,” Fairchild said.

Sharp is aware of the needs of the younger population of veterans, in particular those who are temporarily homeless and just need to get back on their feet. For a homeless veteran, the goal is to reintegrate him into the community as much as possible.

“We want to help them set goals and meet those goals,” she said. That can include making connections with veterans organizations in their hometowns or simply giving veterans dishes and linens for their new homes. Some veterans show up with just a suitcase, Sharp said.

Sharp said local organizations have already expressed interest in programs aimed at helping younger veterans. She hopes to attract younger veterans and show them the home is more than nursing care.

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