Utah bill changes governance of state veterans homes

SALT LAKE CITY — The restructuring of state Veterans Affairs governance would take the governor out of the loop when it comes time to select advisory boards for veterans nursing homes in Utah.

House Bill 381 was approved last week by the House Government Operations Committee. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, would make it so advisory board appointments at each of the state’s four veterans nursing homes would be selected by the executive director of the state’s Veterans Affairs Department, a title currently belonging to Gary Harter.

Peterson said that when the original law was drafted and approved, the state only had one veterans home, and it fell under the Utah National Guard. 

“Now we have an executive director of military and veterans affairs in the state,” Peterson said. “We felt like it was time to clarify that role in relation to these (boards).”

New language in the bill specifies that all responsibility to appoint and reappoint nursing home board members and administer any necessary term adjustments will be transferred from the governor to the state’s VA director. 

Harter said the changes have been coordinated with current nursing home advisory boards and with the Utah National Guard. He said the transfer of responsibility makes more sense.

“With the number of boards that the governor has, (we) thought it was due time (to shift responsibility to the VA director),” Harter said. “These boards change quite a bit, so we will be able to do it in a more expeditious manner by having us do it at the department level as opposed to the governor (doing it).”

The bill also stipulates each board should consist of at least seven, but no more than 11 members. Those members must include one appointee of the resident council of the specific veterans nursing home; three veterans from the geographic area of the particular veterans home; one medical professional experienced in veteran nursing care; three at-large members with an interest in the success of veterans nursing homes; and one member each from the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The new bill takes out a former requirement that one representative from the state health department be appointed to the board.

“When we originally just had the one nursing, home (the health department position) worked well,” Harter said. “But now that we have four, from Ogden down to Ivins, it’s more problematic.”

Harter said the Department of Health conducts annual inspections at the state’s nursing homes, so they’ll still have a presence.

“We still interact with them on an annual basis,” he said. 

There are four state-operated Veterans Homes in Utah, located in Ogden, Salt Lake City, Payson, and Ivins.

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