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State Veterans Home to Regain Its Accreditation

January 23, 2002|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The state-run veterans home at Barstow, which lost federal approval and $5 million to operate its skilled nursing facility for sick military veterans, has passed a series of inspections and is ready to start accepting patients requiring skilled nursing again, it was announced Tuesday.

The subject of numerous investigations since it opened in 1996, the desert facility lost its federal accreditation along with its financial aid 19 months ago because of poor patient care and other violations.

In one highly controversial case, a former World War II sergeant choked to death on his lunch, but officials at the California Veterans Home claimed he suffered a heart attack. The death report by the coroner, however, said the 76-year-old patient gagged on a chunk of broccoli.

In July 2000, the federal government decertified the veterans home as a skilled nursing facility, a decision that cost the state institution $5 million in federal Medicare and Medi-Cal support and per diem payments for services provided to patients.

The decertification was based on findings by the state Department of Health Services.

For almost two years, no new patients requiring skilled nurses have been admitted, although the home has continued to accept new residents who do not need close medical attention.

Gov. Gray Davis, who campaigned hard in 1998 for the support of veterans, said Tuesday that Barstow had "passed all regulatory hurdles" in inspections conducted in November and January. He praised the Barstow staff for its efforts to "turn around past difficulties."

Officials of the state departments of Veterans Affairs and Health Services said they expect the federal government to give its final approval soon so that new patients can join the 87 left in the nursing facility. There are about 112 other residents at Barstow.

It was especially important for Barstow to pass its final inspections because admission of skilled nursing patients at the state's third veterans home at Chula Vista depended on the outcome. No new nursing patients were admitted at Chula Vista while the Barstow facility was unaccredited.

In Davis' first year in office, the Barstow home became an embarrassment. He ordered his director of Veterans Affairs, Tomas Alvarado, to eat, sleep and live at the facility until it got straightened out. It was later disclosed that Alvarado slept some nights at a motel, which angered Davis.

Later, when it became clear that Alvarado would not win confirmation by the Senate, he resigned. In a recent interview, he accused Davis of failing to "back me up."

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