Executive order forces some veterans to move out of nursing homes

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COLUMBIA - Howard Collins, a World War II veteran who lives with dementia, was recently forced to move out of his nursing home, just like thousands of other veterans across the country. 

The forced move is an unintended consequence of an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in February of 2014, which raises the minimum wage for federally contracted workers from $7.25 per hour to $10.10. That's prompting some nursing homes to opt out of renewing VA contracts so they no longer fall under that federal mandate.

The Truman VA has a program called "Community Nursing Homes," in which facilities sign contracts in order to serve as a place for veterans to live and receive care full time. 

Within the Truman VA region, there are 10 community nursing homes. South Hampton Place in Columbia is one of three of these homes that did not renew its VA federal contracts, along with Dixon Nursing & Rehabilitation in Dixon and Glenwood Health Care in Seymour.

That refusal forced Howard Collins and five other veterans to find new living arrangements.

The South Hampton staff "kind of sugar coated it a little bit," Collins' son-in-law, Ryan Bibb, said. " They said 'so do to changes in regulations, we're not going to be able to honor your veteran's contract anymore.'"  

South Hampton Place is owned and operated by Health Systems Inc. in Osage Beach. After multiple attempts to contact the corporate office, KOMU 8 News was unable to reach someone for comment on the contract cancellation. 

"They're voluntarily telling our contracting department that they're not going to renew that contract," said Stephen Gaither, public relations officer for the Truman VA. "There are employees in these organizations that apparently are not making that kind of money [$10.10 per hour] and the organization doesn't want to have to pay that salary."

Bibb said, "At that point, I'm assuming the powers that be there in South Hampton, their corporate office, crunched their numbers and said that this isn't going to be possible for us to be able to stay at the level of care we are at."

In early August, South Hampton Place administrators notified the Bibbs they had 90 days to find a new home for Collins. 

"At that point it was kind of a crap shoot," Bibb said. The family had the option to move Collins to several homes west of Columbia, but the distance from family was too far according to Bibb. The Bibbs live in Troy, Missouri and Collins' sons live near the Lake of the Ozarks. 

When a veteran needs to be relocated, no matter the reason, the Truman VA assists the family in the process. 

"We have two social workers that work with the veterans, their families, and with those nursing homes to make sure there is a transition for the veteran and permanent placement," Gaither said.

VA social workers "were more than willing to do whatever they needed to do," Bibb said. "They were certainly there to do whatever we needed or required."

After several weeks of waiting, the Bibb family heard back from the VA community nursing home in Wellsville, which had one bed available that could meet Collins' needs. 

Wellsville is the only  local VA affiliate nursing facility, Bibb said. "When there is one bed available you pretty much you better jump."

Although the family was happy to have a home suitable for Collins at the time, their long term goal was to get him into the Missouri Veterans Home in Mexico, which is known to have a waiting list up to a year at times. 

However, just two days after moving Collins into the nursing home in Wellsville, the Bibbs received the call they had been waiting for, a spot  at the Veterans Home in Mexico. Although the family said they were pleased to finally have their father in the place they wanted, there was some concern over the move. 

"The frustrating part is just knowing that it is throwing him off. You know not only throwing him off once, but throwing him off twice," Bibb said. "He was in South Hampton for almost two years. When you take him for five days and throw him somewhere else and then you get the opportunity to get him to the VA home in Mexico, time will tell in how distracting that is for him and kind of how much that confuses him. Hopefully it will be minimal impact."

The executive order caused 13 veterans in the Truman VA region to be displaced from their community nursing homes. According to Gaither, as of November 10, all veterans affected by this corporate decision have been transferred to other facilities or discharged to their home.