CAMERON, Mo. — The Missouri Veterans Commission said a nursing shortage has led to unfilled beds at veterans homes across the state, including around two dozen at a facility in Cameron.
The shortage, which began last October, led to using temp agencies to fill gaps and veterans homes having to cut off new admission to facilities until earlier in June.
Joe Blessing, who once served in the Army National Guard, joined the staff a month ago and has helped the team navigate the challenges created by the shortage.
“Any area of nursing that you can think of, I’m involved in,” he told 41 Action News. “What we’ve tried to do is have people volunteer ahead of time and set up a few 12s here or 8s there. It’s been a struggle.”
The facility in Cameron houses 200 beds for veterans seeking care.
Due to the shortage, around 27 are unfilled.
While the facility recently started admitting veterans again, the Missouri Veterans Commission said the state still faces issues attracting nurses.
“We’re not unlike other nursing homes who are facing a nationwide nursing shortage,” Communications Director Jaime Melchert said. “There’s only a certain pool of nurses available, so it’s very competitive.”
Melchert said the state faces an uphill battle when recruiting against private facilities.
“We’re a state agency, so we’re competing against the private sector that can offer bonuses and other things,” he said. “When it comes to pay in Missouri, it’s hard to be competitive with the private market.”
With the shortage leading to a longer wait list for veterans seeking admissiony, Melchert said state officers were examining ways to help veterans get the care they need.
“Those that need 24/7 care are the ones we’re trying to get in the beds first and foremost,” he said.
Melchert said issues have come up in the past with the waiting list and slow or halted admissions.
“We’re looking a lot closer at medical records and the waiting list has pared down,” he said. “We had veterans that would appear on multiple waiting lists and then decline. They would be contacted and they’d say, ‘Thank you. We’re not ready.’ There was a variety of reasons they weren’t coming to our homes.”
Despite the shortage, staff and veterans continue to try and create a welcoming community. Plaques, pictures and other decor hang on the walls honoring soldiers and the armed forces.
A short walk from the cafeteria, a World War II veteran started a library with a special section dedicated to a family that lost two sons in a concentration camp and helped organize the project.
Moving forward, Melchert said it was important for recruits to know the importance of working at a veterans home.
“Working at a Missouri veterans home is more than money,” he said. “It’s about giving back to the veterans. It gives the veterans pride. The staff become part of this larger family.”
To help relieve the shortage, Melchert said the state was building recruitment relationships with local colleges.
As the facility slowly gets back to full capacity, Blessing said he looks forward to new nurses joining him on the front lines of care.
“The mission here is to take care of veterans,” he said. “It’s the expectation of the communities we serve that there’s going to be available care for our veterans, and that’s our mission. We take that very seriously.”
With over 20 nurses currently training at the Cameron facility, Melchert added that more veterans will be admitted to the home as soon as the staff grows larger.