QUINCY -- Efforts to address a long-standing shortage of nurses at the four Illinois veterans homes has the state Department of Veterans Affairs drawing the ire of the Illinois Nurses Association.
Dave MacDonna, a Veterans Affairs spokesman, said the agency has tried several ways to recruit registered nurses. Records indicate that the state's four veterans homes have faced frequent staffing shortages for more than a decade.
"Nursing positions at the Quincy Veterans Home have been open and advertised for months, and in order to ensure the safety of our residents, IDVA is considering other options, including subcontracting," MacDonna said.
Veterans Affairs officials would like to hire a job service to find registered nurses and send them to the veterans homes.
Chris Martin, a spokesman for the Illinois Nurses Association, said this amounts to "privatize nursing care for veterans." The union represents 202 registered nurses working at state veterans homes in Quincy, Anna, LaSalle and Manteno. The association represents 67 of the nurses at the Quincy home.
MacDonna denied that the state is seeking to privatize nursing care. Veterans homes just need help locating nurses, he said.
"These are temporary contract positions, and if the temporary employee decides to become a permanent employee, they become an employee of (the veterans home) and a member of the Illinois Nurses Association," MacDonna said.
Martin was not convinced. He said a similar effort undertaken by the Illinois Department of Corrections resulted in nurses subcontracting at prisons and providing care the state auditor general said was not sufficient.
"Our experience with the state is that once they start something like this, it always ends up with privatization," Martin said.
Veterans Affairs has tried to find ways to fill nursing positions for years. In late 2013, the Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy launched a drive to hire 25 certified nurse assistants. Two months later, only six had been added.
An earlier hiring push began in late 2008. Officials said at the time that during the previous 12 months, the Quincy home had paid $716,000 in overtime. The nursing shortage and mandatory overtime generated those costs as home officials sought to comply with state rules dictating the number of direct-care staff members needed to handle about 400 residents.
Victoria Dameron, a registered nurse at the Quincy home, was quoted in an Illinois Nurses Association news release.
"Veterans are the heroes of our country, and they should be treated with the utmost respect and be given everything they need," Dameron said.