Work to recruit and retain staff at Missouri’s nursing homes for veterans appears to be paying off. Veterans Commission Executive Director Paul Kirchoff said a federal grant, along with an 8.7% state worker pay increase, have helped to recruit nurses, nurse’s aides, and licensed practical nurses.

“The governor’s pay raise made a significant impact in our ability to compete, not just with other long term care facilities or medical, but a person, as a CNA, can go work for any, it’s a starting level pay job. So, they can go work at Walmart, Kmart, Starbucks, wherever,” he said.

Kirchoff said evening pay is higher and each Missouri veterans’ home has also added a staff recruiter.

“We’ve actually made the biggest increase on the nurses, the RNs, the LPNs since June. With RNs, we had staffing rates of 55%. We’re up to 73%. One of the ones that we are showing increases for is the CNA. We were at 53%. Now we’re at 61% fill rate,” he said.

According to Kirchoff, due to the increase in retaining and recruiting staff, the veterans’ homes have been admitting new patients.

“With more staff, obviously we’re able to take care of more veterans and that’s the ultimate goal,” said Kirchoff. “All of our homes are accepting applications for veterans. Not all of them have a waiting list. Warrensburg probably has the longest waiting list, but in Cape Girardeau, Cameron, Mexico, a veteran can come in and there’s a relatively short waiting list.”

He said Missouri has used up the federal grant funding for this year.

“We will apply for it next year,” Kirchoff said. “You can apply for it for three years. We’re on year one. Next year, will be hopefully year two. But we’ll continue to apply for that grant.”

Does he anticipate another state worker pay increase next state budget year?

“I believe that there will be proposals for state pay increases,” said Kirchoff. “I very seriously doubt they would be the 8.7%. But I think our leadership is aware that we have to compete and to compete we have to pay commensurate with the with the private sector. So, I do foresee that but we’ll see how much.”

Kirchoff said competing with the private sector was especially hard during the pandemic.

“During the heart of when the staffing crisis was going on, we were seeing nursing bonuses of up to $20,000. And for us, it’s just not something that we can do legally. It’s against the law for a state agency to pay base something that they haven’t spent the hours or spent the time working for. So, bonuses are not an option for us. That, in essence, made it even more difficult for us to compete against some of the private sector,” said Kirchoff.

Missouri has veterans’ homes in Cameron, Cape Girardeau, Mexico, Mt. Vernon, St. James, St. Louis, and Warrensburg.

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