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Staff shortage keeps new unit at veterans home shut

The addition for memory care at the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home in Truth or Consequences has not housed any veterans because of a staffing shortage. (Albuquerque Journal photo)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new $26 million memory care unit at the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home in Truth or Consequences, which celebrated its grand opening in November, has yet to house any veterans.

Mitchell Lawrence, director of the Healthcare Coordination Division of the state’s Department of Veterans Services, told an Albuquerque audience at a quarterly public meeting Wednesday that staffing problems are to blame.

“Truth or Consequences is a great place to visit, but trying to get individuals to come down there and live and actually staff that facility is a little difficult,” Lawrence said.

The 59 beds at the new building are to be filled by residents now in the 135-bed home next door in the old Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital, opening up more room for everyone.

The $26 million facility features private rooms, a movie theater and small “neighborhoods” that reduce the institutional feel nursing homes often have.

The DVS held rapid-hire events in Truth or Consequences but is still struggling to fill certified nursing assistant positions, Lawrence said.

Seventeen CNAs still need to be hired before it can open.

“We’ve already cleaned out all that we can find in Truth or Consequences, but when you’re making $9 an hour … a lot of people aren’t willing to uproot themselves from Las Cruces and move to Truth or Consequences and provide that care,” Lawrence said.

That care involves dressing, bathing, toilet assistance and feeding residents. Some of those positions, such as basic nursing aide, pay as little as $16,245 a year, according to the job listing.

Emilee Cantrell, spokeswoman for the State Personnel Office, said via email the agency is working with DVS to “initiate salary increases” at the State Veterans’ Home.

“This will help attract new employees and retain existing employees at the location,” Cantrell wrote.

In the meantime, Lawrence said, they’ve extended the search for employees to other areas.

He said they’re working with the New Mexico Department of Transportation to possibly provide free rides to the facility – an hour and 10 minutes each way – for employees living in Las Cruces.

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