Missouri Gov. Mike Parson meets with residents, staff and volunteers at the Missouri Veteran’s Home in St. Louis. Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO

The board overseeing Missouri’s fleet of nursing homes for military veterans is again calling on Gov. Mike Parson and the Legislature for a funding boost.

Facing a staffing turnover rate of 100% among low-paid nursing assistants, Missouri Veterans Commission Operations Director Melissa Skinner told commissioners Monday the seven nursing homes have seen an 85% drop in state funding since 2006, from $46.7 million in state aid to $8.7 million this year.

Skinner said the state reductions have affected all aspects of the homes, ranging from the quality of food to the placement of a cap on the number of veterans the homes can serve.

Skinner said workers are leaving for jobs at private nursing homes that can pay sign-on bonuses.

“It’s very, very difficult to compete with that,” Skinner said. “Right now we’re not even able to effectively recruit.”

“In order to stem the tide, we’ve got to take care of our staff now. Otherwise we won’t have any staff,” said MVC Executive Director Paul Kirchhoff.

The homes in Bellefontaine Neighbors, Cameron, Warrensburg, St. James and Mount Vernon have consolidated some units to combat the ongoing staffing shortages. While the homes have the capacity to serve 1,200 veterans, the current population is 733.

The commission is preparing to ask lawmakers and the governor for an immediate infusion of $5 million in state funds to help boost wages in the current fiscal year.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, who is a member of the commission, said the board needs to make it clear to the governor’s office that the money is needed to keep the homes afloat.

“These veterans are not going to be served,” Schupp said.

Commission Chairman Kelly McClelland said he’s hopeful Parson will be receptive to the request.

“He’s a veteran and he’s very serious about this program,” McClelland said.

In future years, the commission is proposing to request $33.2 million in additional state funding.

The salary issue is most severe among nursing assistants who have a base salary of $21,424.

As of July 15, turnover among the nursing assistants stood at 100%, with 214 vacancies within the seven homes.

One option sought by the commission is to reclassify nursing assistants so they could receive a higher wage. The change, which could be implemented within three months, would cost an estimated $3.4 million.

Another option to bring in more cash is raising the monthly rate paid by the residents.

Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, who also sits on the board, said the commission should seek other options before raising the rate on veterans.

Terressa Sherlock, finance and accounting manager, also said the commission has $15 million in federal emergency pandemic relief funds, but it cannot spend it because it has not received permission from the Legislature.

It is the second time in three years the commission has sought more help from the state.

In 2020, the commission had initially convinced the Parson administration that it deserved an additional $3 million to boost the pay of more than 500 employees who work at the seven nursing homes.

But, when Parson unveiled his proposed spending plan in 2020, there was no money for the raises.

At the time, budget officials said additional money was on hold during the ramp-up of the state’s medical marijuana program.

But, according to Sherlock, the money from pot taxes amounts to just $4.7 million so far, which is not enough to close the revenue gap facing the commission.

Under the constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana, application fees from businesses and a 4% tax on medical marijuana sales are supposed to go to the Department of Health and Senior Services for it to administer the program.

The remaining money is supposed to be transferred to the Missouri Veterans’ Health and Care Fund.

The constitutional amendment says the veterans money may go toward operation, maintenance and capital improvements for veterans homes, the Missouri service officer’s program, and other commission-approved services for veterans, including “health care services, mental health services, drug rehabilitation services, housing assistance, job training, tuition assistance, and housing assistance to prevent homelessness.”

ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH

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