One day before visiting the Wisconsin Veterans Home in King, Gov. Scott Walker announced he will include more than 70 new nursing positions for the facility in the next state budget.
Walker was at the WVH-King Friday, Dec. 7, to commemorate Pearl Harbor Day with local veterans.
WVH-King staffing problems were raised in July when nurses complained about excessive overtime. They attributed the overtime to staff vacancies that needed to be filled.
Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24, told the County Post in July that many frontline health care staff were working 64 hours a week due to mandatory overtime.
In 2011, the home was operating at a nearly $6 million deficit and was facing possible layoffs, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2012, WVH-King had a budget surplus of nearly $7 million.
Each of the agencies have been working with the governor’s office to develop their own budgets for the state’s 2013-15 biennial budget, Walker said Friday.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs had submitted a request in September to add staff here, 25 new registered nurses and another 58 certified nursing assistants,” Walker said. “We think it’s important to relieve some of the pressure on staff. Most importantly, it’s best for patient care.”
“We are very excited to see this,” said Mary Hanson, WVH commandant. “We have made the first step to where the RNs and CNAs have been approved and put into Gov. Walker’s budget. Now, they need to be approved by the Legislature next year.”
According to Carla Vigue, communications director for the state Department of Veterans Affairs, the proposed state budget includes just over $4 million for 25 full-time RNs and nearly $5.17 million for 57.6 CNA positions.
Since November 2008, WVH-King has seen its census steadily drop until it reached a low point in April 2011 of 90 percent capacity with 650 residents.
In November 2011, the number of residents at the home began increasing again. Now, there are about 700 residents at a facility with 721 capacity. They are served by nearly 500 direct care staff.
Vigue said the addition of these nursing positions will allow WVH-King to ensure there is a registered nurse per unit at all times, as well as to improve the ratio of patients to nursing staff.
Hanson noted that the WVH-King combines four living facilities into the single largest nursing home in Waupaca County.
In addition to a growing census, Hanson said WVH-King staff are also now caring for a population that is older than in the past.
“They are staying in their own communities longer, so when they come to us later in life they have more chronic health care problems,” Hanson said. “We have been planning for the past year on how to address our staffing to the evolving health care needs of our veterans.”
When asked how the increased staffing may affect employee morale, Hanson said, “Overall, this is a very positive thing. I think the people who work here feel very honored to be caring for the veterans who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.”
The retention rate for nurses at WVH-King averages about 98 percent, which exceeds the state average of 75 percent.