TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Outdated, inadequate and, in some cases, dangerous. That’s the finding of a recent report after a look inside the New Mexico Veterans’ Home that is overseen by the state. It’s the same home that dealt with a deadly COVID-19 outbreak at the height of the pandemic.
In the 1930s, this building in T or C was a children’s hospital for kids with polio. In the 1980s, it was converted into the state’s Veterans’ Home which is currently housing around 80 of some of New Mexico’s bravest. However, the facility which is overseen by the New Mexico Department of Health is now under the microscope following a recent report showing just how outdated and run down the building is.
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KRQE News 13 didn’t have access inside the building because of HIPAA concerns. However, the former secretary of health explains the old building requires a lot of maintenance. “That is a real challenge to the maintenance team here and the General Services Department,” said Kathy Kunkel, former NMDOH secretary. Kunkel said the state was quick to address recent issues they’ve faced like fixing the roof and keeping the building cool during the hot summer. But that barely scrapes the surface of problems highlighted in the report.
“This old building, again, was a children’s hospital so it was built for multiple people in a room,” said Kunkel. “It’s not anywhere near where a long-term care facility where those facilities are; a new type of aging is to have a more home-like settings.”
In the 224-page facility assessment, inspectors found many areas of concern. In the report, inspectors found uncapped plumbing lines stuffed with paper towels. In the restrooms, there are cracked tiles and little to no handicapped access. Some of the resident’s rooms are too small and too many people are living in one room. The report said the vinyl flooring doesn’t meet current VA standards, window treatments are in bad shape, wires are exposed and the elevator is broken. Outside, walking paths are starting to crumble and the empty indoor swimming pool is now used for storage.
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Read the full NM State Veterans’ Home report below:
In total, the report estimates it would be a $25-million renovation to address most of the pressing concerns. Instead, the state is looking at building a whole new veterans’ home in the area, which could cost roughly $50-million to $80-million. “I’m certain New Mexico will go in that direction in some capacity smaller rooms, a more home-like atmosphere,” said Kunkel. “Whatever we can provide for the veterans who deserve it.”
In a separate report by the state’s Legislative Finance Committee, they said a lack of leadership by NMDOH is “failing the residents.” The report said a lack of oversight is a likely factor in the high COVID infections and deaths at the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home during the height of the pandemic. According to the report, the Veterans’ Home didn’t protect the residents from the virus, including not offering PPE. Twenty-eight residents of the Home died of COVID.