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Veterans' nursing homes in Florida are still recovering from pandemic

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The Florida Channel
In this image from the Florida Channel video, Bob Asztalos, deputy executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, makes a presentation to the Florida Senate Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee on Jan. 4, 2023.

The number of employees and residents were reduced as COVID spread. This week, Bob Asztalos with the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs tells a state Senate committee that wages are finally competitive and people are being rehired.

A top state veterans official told Florida senators Wednesday that the state-run nursing homes for veterans are still recovering after the COVID pandemic shrank their staffs and reduced the number of residents.

Deputy Executive Director Bob Asztalos of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs told a Senate committee that its wages are finally competitive, thanks to a $5.6 million boost in state funding last year.

"We are hiring people back," he told the Military and Veterans Affairs, Space and Domestic Security Committee. "We've got our censuses back up to around 80% census. So we went from the 60s to 80s. We're hoping that we get our buildings back to full by the end of this fiscal year."

There are about 1,100 beds statewide in the department's long-term care facilities.

As operations return to normal, Asztalos said the department wants to make its nursing homes more than long-term care beds -- to make them veteran communities providing outpatient therapy and short-term rehab.

"We would love to do adult day care in our buildings," he said. "We have space for that. And this would allow us to keep veterans in their home. So there's much more we could do. We're looking at our new homes to be able to turn them into communities. But also we're looking at our existing homes."

This would diversify revenue streams, he said.

It would start at the department's two new homes, including one at Lake Baldwin that could get VA certification in March. There are also seven older facilities around the state.

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Florida Department of Veterans Affairs
The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs nursing homes numbered 10 and 11 are planned in the next five to seven years for Collier and Marion counties. Numbers 8 and 9 are new.