$26M TorC facility raises bar for elder veteran care - Albuquerque Journal

$26M TorC facility raises bar for elder veteran care

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES – The New Mexico State Veterans’ Home in Truth or Consequences isn’t quite like most nursing homes.

For one, the overwhelming majority of its residents are men, unlike most.

“I find they attempt to be more independent, not asking for help to get up,” said home administrator Colleen Rundell. “They fall more.”

The facility was opened in 1985 inside the former Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital, which was built in 1935.

Visitors to the home are greeted with a wall of large windows that borders a lovely courtyard where small turtles slowly wander around a fountain.

Colleen Rundell, administrator of the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home, shows a “neighborhood” of the new memory care-focused addition to the home. Each neighborhood accommodates 13 residents. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

But however atypical some of the home’s traits may be, at its heart it’s a traditional nursing home.

Three to four adults share each room, separated by blue curtains on rings.

Mealtimes are spent in a large cafeteria that reminds one of elementary school, and there’s no central air conditioning.

In a few weeks, though, nearly 60 of the home’s 135 residents in nursing care will be moved to a newly completed, $26 million facility next door.

“I’m very proud of it,” said New Mexico Department of Veterans Services Secretary Jack Fox said.

“There’s 168,000 veterans in New Mexico, and this sends a message to them that the state cares about them.”

For veterans who are 70 percent service connected disabled, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays for their care at the home. Residents may also use Medicaid or pay privately, often on a sliding scale.

Construction on the addition began in 2015.

It’s a beautiful building, boasting 59 private rooms, each with its own bathroom facilities.

Rundell said research has shown that residents in private rooms live longer than their room-sharing peers.

“I think it reduces stress for them,” she said.

Private rooms also allow residents to sleep better and enjoy more privacy.

Residents of the addition may choose when to bathe, eat and participate in recreational activities, Rundell said.

Irwin Hawkins, an Army veteran and resident of the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home in Truth or Consequences, is scheduled to move to the new facility in early November. He has lived at the facility nearly four years and said the care is excellent. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

The home is structured in a “neighborhood” style; it’s divided into five sections, each one with 13 rooms, and its own cozy kitchen, dining area and patio area, complete with a fountain and grilling station.

Residents with memory care needs will fill most of the new beds.

With that in mind, the new facility has increased security features to ensure wandering residents are unable to get outside by themselves, especially important during the heat of the summer months, Rundell said.

Residents will begin moving into the new space at the beginning of November.

That will free up space in the existing facility, so those residents will have more room to spread out.

“Two to a room is a lot better than four to a room,” said Mitchell Lawrence, director of the Healthcare Coordination Division of the DVS.

New oversight

Oversight of the New Mexico Veterans’ Home changed hands from the New Mexico Department of Health to the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services in July after unanimous approval by the Legislature.

Lawrence said most state veterans’ homes operate similarly.

“That way, those facilities don’t have to compete with other interests,” he said. “Our whole focus is on that home.”

Lawrence said he hopes the transition will foster connections between the state’s wider veteran community and residents of the home, many of whom struggle with isolation issues.

He also hopes to increase awareness of the home; before DVS took over, the home was below capacity and many of the state’s veterans weren’t aware of its existence.

Today, it has a waiting list.

The Veterans Administration estimates the state is short 212 veteran nursing home beds, Lawrence said.

That means another new facility may be on the horizon. Ideally, it’ll be in a more metropolitan area, he said, as it’s difficult to attract qualified staff to somewhere like Truth or Consequences, he said.

Should a resident require specialist care at the VA in Albuquerque, it’s a five-hour ordeal.

“We would push to have it in a bigger area where we could have more resources available,” he said.

The new addition offers 59 private rooms, complete with their own bathroom facilities. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)
The new addition at the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home is styled after the existing, circa 1935 facility. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

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