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Skilled nursing facility: officials say Casper the right choice for veterans

(Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

The Veteran’s Skilled Nursing Facility bill is still moving around the Legislature.

The Senate Appropriations Committee recommended the bill on Friday, Feb. 8. and it is now scheduled for a first reading in the Senate. The Wyoming Legislative Service Office said that should take place on Monday, Feb. 11.

The Senate Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee again selected Casper as the site for the skilled nursing facility on Wednesday. Buffalo had previously been set as the landing spot.

Casper Mayor Charlie Powell said that if the facility does end up in Casper it will be good for the veterans.

“Casper’s concern all along has been for the welfare of the veterans,” he said. “Casper is in a much better position to staff the facility.”

Casper Representative Joe MacGuire, a member of the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee, also said that what’s important to him is getting this right for the veterans.

“Wherever the Level II study says it should go, that is what I would vote for,” MacGuire said, referring to one of a number of feasibility studies conducted by the Wyoming Veterans’ Commission, the Wyoming Department of Health and the State Construction Department.

The Level II study compared Casper, Buffalo and Sheridan as potential sites for the facility. Those three communities were highlighted due to scores they achieved in the Level I study.

That study looked at 12 Wyoming communities, ranking each location according to factors like the estimated number of veterans that would be served, the number and quality of medical workforce in those communities, their proximity to other parts of the state and the continuity of care.

A Wyoming Department of Health skilled nursing facility needs analysis lists the following as the advantages of locating the facility in Casper:

  • Would serve the largest number of veterans due to its central location.
  • Large existing CNA workforce and access to CNA graduates.
  • Many local amenities for residents and visiting families.
  • Above-average access to medical specialists.
  • Above-average number of veterans organizations.
  • Donated land.

(Source: Wyoming Veterans’ State Home Updated Needs Analysis)

The analysis says that weaknesses of Casper as a site for the nursing facility are that it would not provide as great continuity of care as Buffalo where the Veterans’ Home is located.

Casper has only average access to VA medical care compared with Buffalo and Sheridan. Certified Nursing Assistants graduating in Casper have below average test scores relative to the two northern Wyoming cities.

MacGuire said that he thought Casper would be best for veterans because of its central location.

“It’s important for families to go and visit these veterans,” he said, adding that the Casper/Natrona County International Airport might make it easier for veterans’ family members living outside the state.

Mayor Powell also pointed to Casper’s centrality and the airport as reasons why veterans and their families would be best served there.

“The importance of that is impossible to calculate,” Powell said. “It’s our job to do right by them.”

MacGuire urged some caution regarding the skilled nursing facility.

“It’s not going to be some big economic boom that some people are talking about,” he said.

The needs analysis estimated that less than a quarter of Wyoming veterans over 65 receive an income. An estimated 79 percent of veterans in the state are on Medicaid.

MacGuire explained that the purpose of the skilled nursing facility was to provide low-cost care options for veterans.

While he said that would provide some well-paid nursing jobs, the important thing was ensuring that Wyoming plan a facility that would get the most out of available Veterans Affairs funding.

“They give us 154 beds, that’s it,” MacGuire said. “The federal government pays the least they possibly can. If they look and see there are beds not being used, they might decide there’s no need to fund more. There’s no guarantee they’ll grant that funding.”

The needs analysis states that the VA only provides construction funding assistance if at least 75 percent of residents of the facility are veterans. It points out that a maximum of 154 care beds could receive VA assistance in Wyoming.

It goes on to explain that there are 114 beds at the Veteran’s Home in Buffalo and that an average of 70 residents have occupied that facility over the last few fiscal years.

MacGuire said part of the reason Casper is the right choice is that he thinks beds could be filled there. The proposed skilled nursing facility would initially house 36 beds. MacGuire also suggested Wyoming could look into locating a smaller number of beds on the eastern and western sides of the state to provide support for more veterans.

The needs study says there are approximately 48,000 veterans in Wyoming and estimated that 300 veterans in the state currently require skilled nursing facility level care. The study also reports that it is unlikely that more than 170 veterans would occupy any single facility due to travel time costs.

The needs analysis, Level I and II studies and more information are available at the Wyoming Veterans’ State Home website.

Update: In a previous version of this story, Oil City News reported that the bill was scheduled for a second reading in the Senate Monday, Feb. 11. This was incorrect. The bill is actually scheduled for a first reading in the Senate Monday, Feb. 11. Oil City News regrets the error.