Durbin Makes First Visit to La Salle Veterans Home

Morris Daily Herald
April 1, 2010

By Jo Ann Hustis

LA SALLE – Illinois and the nation will keep its word to its military veterans, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin pledged while touring the local Illinois Veterans Home.

“It’s clear the home is not just doing its job – it’s staffed by a lot of caring people who want to make sure the veterans get the very best,” Durbin noted at the conclusion of his first visit to the 20-year-old facility.

“Some of the veterans have given so much to this country, and now they need a helping hand, and we promised we’d stand by them.”

Durbin said he understood from Director Dan Grant of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs about a proposal to raise the monthly room rates for veterans.

“I understand that efforts are going to be made for each individual veteran to make sure there’s no hardship, and they’ve taken into consideration the financial circumstances each one of them faces,” he said in his remarks at the brief news conference.

The proposed monthly increase per resident is $400. This will bring the total cost to $1,329 per month per veteran, including medications and supplies.

Facility Administrator John Koehler indicated Wednesday that privately operated nursing homes charge nearly four times that amount monthly.

Supplies and medications are an extra cost at privately operated nursing homes. At approximately $150 per day, the average monthly cost per individual at a private nursing home is about $4,500, noted Koehler, who spent 20 years in the private home sector before taking the administrator position at La Salle Veterans Home in December.

The current room rate is $929 per month per veteran at the La Salle facility. The $400 increase will go into effect at the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. The senior U.S. senator from Illinois and the Democratic Party whip, Durbin holds the second highest position in his party’s leadership in the Senate. He has been identified as one of the nation’s 10 best U.S. senators.

Durbin noted he understood Illinois is one of the least expensive states for the veterans themselves.

“And I think we need to consider the kind of care they’re receiving, which is worth dramatically more than the amount they charge,” he said of the proposed increase. “And that it’s a reasonable amount of money as long as we make sure we will make exceptions for hardship cases.”

Grant – who was assigned the directorship post last year by Gov. Pat Quinn – said the Department of Veterans Affairs was given a $5 million increase from the state’s general revenue fund. Most of the increase will go into the state’s four veterans homes, including the La Salle facility.

“These are facilities we are very proud of,” he said. “Eighty percent of our budget of $120 million goes into our homes.”

He mentioned expansion of the homes at Quincy, Anna, and Chicago, as well as locally.

The 200-bed La Salle Veterans Home, which includes the 80-bed addition opened last year, has 150 beds and 206 staff positions filled at this time.

The facility is fully funded for 200 beds. There are 46 veterans in the special care unit with Alzheimer’s and similar health issues.

“We’re shooting to get to 160 beds filled by the end of April,” Koehler said. “Then we’ll slow down simply because admissions typically slow down at all nursing homes in the summer. We’re trying to get another 10 admissions every two months.”

The admission process is slower than at a nursing home in the private sector because of the extensive processing involved.

“Coming to a home like this, we need the veteran’s status, which includes a health assessment and behavioral problems,” he said. “We want to make sure they are appropriate to the facility before they are admitted. The worst thing would be to bring someone in, and 30 days later, tell them to find someplace else.

There is a waiting list for admission, but not as extensive as four months ago, Koehler said.

“I think we can get to the 200-filled-beds point,” he said. “Realistically, if we get 90-percent-filled beds, we’ll be out-performing every nursing home in Illinois, veterans and private. Most nursing homes run 75- to 80-percent-filled beds.”

The 9 1/2 unfilled staff positions include 1 1/2 part-time in dietary and housekeeping. Six registered nurse positions and several nursing assistant positions make up the remainder.