The Utah State Veterans Nursing Home: Another Utah Guard Success Story

 

Written by Maj. Hank McIntire

Published February 28, 2006

 

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Award received by the Utah State Veterans Nursing Home for providing quality care to residents.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Award received by the Utah State Veterans

 Nursing Home for providing quality care to residents.

SALT LAKE CITY The Utah National Guard is world famous for its ability to answer the call to serve overseas and here at home. One Utah Guard project, however, has received quite a bit less notoriety for the same level of superior performance and service, but that is soon to change.

The Utah State Veterans Nursing Home (USVNH), located on the Veterans Administration Hospital campus in Salt Lake City and operated under the auspices of the Utah National Guard, recently received a regional award for the quality of care it provides to its residents.

The facility is a recipient of the 2005 Quality Award from HealthInsight, a private nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the health care systems of Utah and Nevada.

The award recognizes Medicare-certified providers who score high on quality-of-care measures to include pain management, resident comfort, and the percent of residents suffering from depression or anxiety. The nursing home was one of only eight in the region to receive the honor.

“This is the first time we have received this award,” said Colleen Nichols, administrator of the facility opened in 1998 and operated by Traditions Health Care, a private contractor. “And we are in the running again this year.” 

Residents relax in main hallway with flags of the Services represented at the Utah State Veterans Nursing Home in Salt Lake City.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Residents relax in main hallway with flags of the Services represented at the Utah State Veterans Nursing Home in Salt Lake City.

Jeff Hanson, USVNH director and Utah National Guard representative at the facility, calls it a team effort and gives Nichols a large share of the credit for the award.

“Colleen always looks for ways to improve the quality of care. We also work together to improve the quality of life for our veterans,” said Hanson. “We do a number of things to try to help them feel at home and stay busy.”

One of the ways that USVNH helps its 81 residents—all but five of whom are male and veterans of World War II or later conflicts—is to provide them a vigorous activities program which ranges from local sporting events, concerts, fishing, and in-house entertainment from local volunteers to raised garden spaces provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other donors, which are planned for this year.

Other activities available to residents include meeting their spiritual needs through religious services provided by various faith groups and monthly birthday parties to help veterans feel remembered on their special day.

“Our program keeps residents high functioning and helps their minds stay active,” said Director of Activities Cheryl Haws, a therapeutic recreation technician. “We try to provide lots of choices for them depending on their interest and ability to participate.”

Residents enjoy their lunch in the Utah State Veterans Nursing Home dining room.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Residents enjoy their lunch in the Utah State

 Veterans Nursing Home dining room.

“I’ve worked in this industry for 15 years, and I’ve never seen a better activity program than the one we have here,” Hanson added.

The cost to individual residents is another aspect of the facility that draws veterans in.

Federal funds cover about half of the cost of residency, and any who have received an honorable discharge from the military are eligible to live there. The Utah Division of Veterans Affairs Web site has information on eligibility requirements and other veterans benefits at http://www.ut.ngb.army.mil/veterans/Default.htm.

With limited bed space, however, the waiting list is nearly always full. To respond to this need, Guard and veterans officials have future plans in place to build additional facilities in Ogden, Utah County and the St. George area.

Digit, the USVNH resident cat, enjoys the new aviary provided by the Disabled American Veterans and the George Q. Morris Foundation.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Digit, the USVNH resident cat, enjoys the new

aviary provided by the Disabled American Veterans

 and the George Q. Morris Foundation.

Part of the reason for the long waiting list is the quality of care the facility provides. Resident-based care, a concept that is gradually taking hold in nursing homes throughout the nation, is something that the staff of 94 has adopted and is seeing great results. Instead of making residents conform to a schedule that is more convenient for the staff, residents are allowed to eat, shower, and take recreation at times and frequencies that they became accustomed to when they lived at home.

“It’s a culture change in the industry and for our staff, but we’re really trying to provide resident-oriented care and meet individual needs,” says Nichols.

Meeting those needs includes adding a touch of home. Digit, the only feline resident at USVNH is very popular with the human residents and staff. Named for the extra toes on his front paws and groomed to look like a miniature lion, the cat pretty much runs the place—or at least he thinks he does, says Hanson.

The facility also is home to Lucy, a bloodhound who, according to Nichols, washed out at Tracking School and came on board as a gift from the Utah State Department of Corrections.

And a recently opened bird aviary funded by the Disabled American Veterans (Chapter 6) and the George Q. Morris Foundation, is a favorite gathering place for residents—and for Digit.

“The animals provide an atmosphere that is stimulating for the residents,” says Hanson. “They get the whole package in a facility like this.”

Bill Millner, a veteran of World War II and Korea talks about the care provided to residents of the Utah State Veterans Nursing Home.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Bill Millner, a veteran of World War II and Korea talks about the care provided to residents of the Utah State Veterans Nursing Home.

Residents themselves also recognize a good thing when they see it. Bill Millner, a supply officer with the Army and Air Force in World War II and Korea, completed his 20 full-time years in the military in 1965 but came to USVNH only a few months ago.

“My wife had her mother in a nursing home. It was nothing like this,” said Millner. “What these people do for us old-time veterans is great. It’s really great. And they show a patience with us that is amazing.”

Veterans’ families are also appreciative of what the facility provides their loved ones.

 "We often receive notes from families thanking us for the care we provide after their veteran passes away,” said Hanson.

Facility Director Jeff Hanson spends some time with Lucy, a bloodhound donated to USVNH by the Department of Corrections.

Photo by Sgt. Kelly Collett

Facility Director Jeff Hanson spends some time with Lucy, a bloodhound donated to USVNH by the Department of Corrections.

As popular as the facility has become with residents and their families, however, USVNH is not without its challenges. A nationwide nursing shortage is an institutional issue that all nursing homes grapple with, but Nichols says that one of the biggest hurdles the facility faces is simply that the public doesn’t know much about it.

“A lot of veterans don’t even know about us. They need to know that we’re here for them,” Nichols said. “Not everybody needs to be in a nursing home, but it sure is nice to have a good one if you need it.”

For Hanson, a veteran of the Gulf War and a tour in Iraq in 2003-2004 with the Utah National Guard’s 141st Military Intelligence Battalion, the challenge is to never forget what USVNH residents have done for our nation.

“Being a veteran myself, it’s all come together for me. My own service overseas has helped me to appreciate what these guys went through. The residents here stepped up and made a difference in our world. It’s a wonderful experience to work here and be a part of this.”